Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 110: Sugar Snaps and Shiitakes at the Farmer's Market

The farmers markets are in full swing. This week my mom and dad brought down sugar snaps and shiitakes from my step-sister's farm in Virginia Beach.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Sugar Snap Peas

Here's what I made with them.

Ginger Sugar Snaps and Shiitake Brown Rice

Shiitake Mushroom Brown Rice
1 T olive oil
8 shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 green onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup brown rice
2 T soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth

Heat olive oil on medium heat in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan. Add the mushrooms, onions, and garlic and saute for one or two minutes until the garlic begins to turn golden. Stir frequently, and do not let the garlic get too brown.

Add the soy sauce first, stir. Then add the brown rice, stir. Then add the broth. Stir to mix everything, then cover with the lid and reduce heat to low. Simmer on low until rice is done, at least 40 minutes. Do not let rice stick to bottom of pan.

(While the rice is cooking, prepare your ingredients for snap peas, below.)

When the rice is completely done, turn off the heat, move it to the back burner and keep the lid on until the peas are done.

Garlic Sugar Snap Peas

1 pound sugar snap peas, washed and stems removed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 onion, minced
1 T olive oil

This recipe will only take a few minutes to cook, so save it for last. Heat the oil on medium in a stainless steel saute pan. Add the garlic, onion, and ginger, saute for one or two minutes until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden. Add the sugar snaps and salt and pepper. Saute the peas for 2 minutes, turning over in the pan periodically.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 109: Drink Local Beer

(Also known as the "twist my arm" posting.)

I am not a big drinker, and certainly not a big beer drinker. I don't know much about beer at all from a technical standpoint, although I admit to making my own beer once from a Mister Beer kit that I bought on a late-night television infomercial.

Nowadays, if I'm going to drink a beer, say while sitting in a comfy chair outdoors while the kids play in the yard and the breeze is blowing, I'll make it a local one. Here is a list of craft breweries in NC.

On Customer Preference

We are dealing with a medical waste incinerator here in Alamance County called Stericycle.

There are several local activists trying to get the pollutant outputs from this facility more closely monitored, and some residents are ultimately trying to close the facility entirely. There is a hearing with state regulators on this issue next week.

One of the arguments against this facility is that most of the waste that is burned could be sent to a different facility (also owned by the same company and currently underutilized) called an autoclave. Autoclaving is a different process that produces much less pollution than a traditional incinerator.

Why would a company choose NOT to send their waste to a facility that they own, that is underused, and that produces a lot less pollution? I was sent this blurb today, originally on the web page of the industry group CHWMEG (a waste industry non-profit that helps companies in the garbage business) regarding the Haw River Stericycle facility:

The Haw River facility receives pharmaceutical, hospital, medical, infectious, and a limited amount of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) waste .... Regular medical waste could be treated in an autoclave, but generators who prefer treatment by incineration send the waste to the Haw River facility." [emphasis added]

It seems like customer "preference" will be a key issue in this debate.

First we ask the company to stop burning crap that doesn't need to be burned. (NOTE: Paper?!? Really?!? Since when is paper medical waste?!? Even confidential documents could be shredded and burned. PVC? Plastic? None of this should be burned.)

"But the customer wants it" says the company.

Then we could attempt to reduce customer demand through education (and we should!), but if customers come from 23 other states, they might have an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality about polluting little ol' Haw River, so far away.

So we're at an impasse.

The job of a state regulator in this case is to see the Big Picture and disallow pollution when a company and customer see no incentive to reduce pollution themselves.

We see what happens when regulators stop regulating: the BP oil spill, the Massey Big Branch explosion. Those are just two from the past month.

I hope to put together some convincing arguments before Tuesday when we have the public forum on this incinerator.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 108: Support better school lunches

Slow Food USA is sponsoring a "Time For Lunch" Campaign where you can contact your US senator to support legislation to ensure better (healthier, more delicious, wholesome) school lunches for kids.

Right now, Congress leaves school lunch programs with only $1 per meal to pay for food. (The rest of the $2.68 goes toward overhead.) This is inadequate and leaves school lunch programs struggling to serve healthy foods. They end up taking "the cheapest choice" instead of "the better choice". Cheap food is often highly processed, unhealthy junk. On top of that, many schools supplement their food budgets by selling junk from vending machines!

On the home page of Slow Food's campaign site "Time For Lunch", they have a really easy "email your senator" form. You fill in your zip code and customize the message, and voila.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Day 107: Support Home Star legislation

Home Star is the name of a new package of legislation that just passed through the House and is on its way to the Senate.

Text of bill & summary. Basically it will cost $23 per American over 5 years to retrofit homes to be more energy efficient.

This plan "gives U.S. homeowners rebates for energy efficiency improvements and cut energy consumption. Most importantly, Home Star will put many of the country's construction folks and blue collar wage earners back to work..." (that's from the Cowell article on HuffPo).

My wishlist:
First on my list will be ceiling fans for all the bedrooms and the kitchen, 2 screen doors, and maybe an attic fan if Tony can figure out how to install it or hire someone to do it. Also I'd like a larger rug for the living room or a second rug for the other half of the room to keep heat in in the winter. A new refrigerator that is smaller and more efficient. A new efficient hot water heater. A more efficient set of gas logs. (I'm sure that will not be covered.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 106: Ultralocal effort to block medical waste incinerator

What is the problem?
Here in Alamance County we have a medical waste incinerator run by a company called Stericycle that accepts medical waste (think: junk from hospitals like needles, plastics, fabrics, etc) and burns it. When you burn plastic and stuff like that, you release enormous amounts of toxins into the air. This facility in Haw River is one of the largest incinerators in the US [link] and burns waste from 24 states. Lucky us!

Here are some pictures Tony and I took of the facility, located next to Alamance Community College between Graham and Haw River. You can see the twin smokestacks on the left of this picture. (They are easily viewable from I-85 also. Just look to your right as you cross over the exit 150 where the community college is.)

This little, nondescript facility is responsible for pumping out mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, dioxin, furans, beryllium, chlorine, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen chloride, and other air pollutants known to cause cancer, birth defects and developmental disabilities.

Just yesterday when we drove past the facility on I-85 on our way to Richmond, there was smoke pouring out.

What can be done?
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and the Haw River Assembly invite you to attend the public hearing on the permit renewal for the Stericycle medical waste incinerator on Tuesday, May 25, at 6 p.m. at Alamance Community College (ACC) in the auditorium.

There will also be a community informational meeting this coming Monday, May 17, at 7 p.m. also held at ACC in the auditorium, where we will be giving a brief presentation on the impacts of the incinerator on the health of surrounding communities, and specific issues to be addressed under the permit.

Why should we act on this?
When Annie Leonard spoke at Elon University last month, she said addressing pollution from this specific incinerator should be an important project for our local area because it may be relatively easy to transfer the vast majority of the waste to another, reduced-polluting facility (ex: an autoclave). Why burn waste that is not legally required to be burned? What sense does that make?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Update on Day 105: Coal Ash

I know coal ash is down low on our list of environmental priorities this week, what with the gulf oil disaster (more to come on that later) and, close to home, the upcoming Stericycle smackdown that is about to split wide open....

But I just thought I'd update everyone on my Day 105 posting about the coal ash regulations that are supposed to be coming from the EPA any day now, and for which the EPA is supposed to take our public comments.

I want to let everyone know that our wonderful government's system for taking feedback,, is supposedly ready to accept comments from YOU and YOU and YOU about coal ash under docket # EPA–HQ–RCRA–2010–0640, yet their web site is STILL NOT RETURNING RESULTS. I've confirmed with the Appalachian Voices folks, and they told me that yes, this happens all the time, and yes, the clock is ticking on the 90 days we have to comment regardless of whether the web site is available or not. Tick tock. And yes "your call is important to us, please stay on the line..." What a crock of crap. Here's the government's site where they reveal their plan, and ask us to comment.

Day 106: Buy in Bulk

Here's an easy way to save money and cut down on wasteful packaging. Find a store that sells food in bulk and lets you bring your own packaging.

We have several co-ops in nearby counties (soon Company Shops Market will be open in our own county!), but we enjoy stopping at Ellwood Thompson's in Richmond when we go there each month for a kid swap.

They have $0.10 off if you bring your own container, and they take the weight of the container off the item before they weigh it.

Here we have purchased bulk mixed nuts (about a pound), short grain brown rice, liquid laundry detergent, peanut butter (ground in the store!), "neptune's dream" mixed pasta shapes, rolled oats.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Visualizing Energy Use

The folks at GE made a handy, interactive visualization tool for exploring the energy required to run various household appliances: Home Appliance Energy Use.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Day 105: Get Off Your Coal Ash and Do Something

Coal ash (sometimes called fly ash) is the toxic byproduct of burning coal for energy. Coal powers 60% of the American energy diet. Chances are you benefit in some way from the production and burning of coal, and by extension, you are responsible for a portion of the ensuing coal ash.

Coal ash is toxic and disgusting and difficult to contain (NYT). It causes birth defects and cancer (Miami Herald) in communities where it is dumped. Coal companies have tried keeping it contained in ponds, but sometimes they break, flooding nearby towns with ash slurry. Below is a picture of a house flooded by toxic coal ash slurry in December 2008. Note the Christmas bows on the wreaths. (Appalachian Voices)

This week, the EPA has proposed two possible solutions to the Coal Ash Disposal problem. (1) phase out coal ash storage ponds; (2) allow ash ponds, but only if they have plastic liners.

The first solution is better but the second solution is preferred by the coal industry. The EPA is giving the public 90 days to comment on which solution they like better. Then, at the end of 90 days, they will decide which one to do.

What's strange is that the 90-day window is already ticking away (we're on Day 88 or 87 right now, not sure which), but the EPA hasn't yet posted a place on to take public comments. You're supposed to be able to put in the Docket # EPA–HQ–RCRA–2010–0640 and get a result. But no dice.

I'll write more later when I figure out how Jane Q. Public is actually supposed to respond with comments to this. :(

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Day 104: Garden Update

Here are some garden pics.

Squash Flower
Squash flower

Slugs ate my basil (I've since bought iron phosphate pellets)
Slugs ate my basil

Swiss Chard
Swiss chard

First Pea Pod of the Season
First pea pod of the season

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Day 103: Stop Being Cheap and Donate

Several years ago, I used to make and sell things (cards, paper crafts) on Ebay and use the ensuing Paypal money to donate to this cause or that political party. I'd have this secret donation bucket that was "mine" and I could use it to support my crazy fringe wacko causes. In fact, I was still using this model when I joined Company Shops Market in 2008. I told myself that I had to wait until I had the $100 in Paypal in order to join it. (In the end, I wrapped up a large box of too-big clothes and sold it and that put me over the top. And they turned out to not be so crazy, fringe, or wacko. Better luck next time! Ha ha.)

At the time, there was something so frivolously "extra" about donating to causes that I didn't want to use my "real" money to do it. My values were different then, and I viewed spending on clothes as mandatory but spending on causes as optional.

With events over the last few years being what they were, I have experienced a massive wake-up call in multiple areas of my life. (I'd highly recommend an awakening of this sort to everyone, though my hope is that you'd accomplish it in a more constructive, more painless way than I did. I'd recommend: finding religion, losing a bunch of weight, changing jobs, start running, etc. Something fun.) Anyway, my opinions about money have changed. A lot. More than it is possible to describe here.

Long story short, one of the goals of the Green V. Green experiment is to save money by simplifying and cutting back. This means, in part, being a conscious and skeptical consumer. And by conscious and skeptical I mean neurotically hyperaware of every single thing that I am buying and why. And one of the benefits from THAT is that I have a bit of extra money now to donate to my favorite causes, because I'm not buying as much stuff. For example, causes have been elevated in importance, and clothes spending has dropped way down in importance. (In fact, last month I spent $13 on clothes and that was at the thrift store.)

I've got a few pet causes: The Story of Stuff project, Sierra Club, Mountains to Sea Trail, (Appalachian Voices), Electronic Frontier Foundation, Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace, etc. A few more. I try to give to causes that (1) I really believe in and care about, (2) really need the money, and which are (3) accountable and trustworthy. Being a mindful consumer extends to donations too.

Check GuideStar, or Charity Navigator or Charity Watch to make sure the people you are giving the money to are on the up-and-up.

Note that only 501(c)3 organizations are on these sites. Groups like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace are 501(c)4 groups (more political) so contributions to them are not tax-deductible and they don't have to disclose their donor lists, etc. They are a different sort of charity. Groups like Appalachian Voices and the EFF are 501(c)3 groups so they are tax-deductible.

Find something that you really believe in, and which really needs you. Give some money.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Playing Outside: It's now called "Green Exercise"

USA Today ran a story on an academic study about the mental health benefits of "green exercise", or, as regular humans like to call it, "being outdoors".

Well there's a shocker. Being outdoors for just 5 minutes in a green space will make you feel better. I believe it 100%.

Related items: Day 28, Run Outside, Not on Treadmill. Alamance Outdoors, our "other" blog.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Day 102: Have a Car-Free Weekend

Yeah, so you and I both know that it's going to take a lot more than a couple of people giving up their cars to fix our nationwide oil addiction.

But here at Green V. Green, we continue to live the pipe dream. We sold the car back in February, so we've been a one-car family for a few months. Usually this is not very noteworthy. The biggest changes have been in the amount of time I spend in the car doing "errands" (you can interpret that as "shopping"). My credit card bills have gone way down! I also commute by foot to work a lot now, which means that I logged my first "75-miles by foot-transport" month in April.

Anyway, this weekend Tony's got the car up in Maryland for Max's birthday and Claire and I are down here carless. I thought about renting a car, but really, do we need it? We're going to make do without a car for a whole weekend. Will we survive? Will we live to tell the tale? More later...

Update #1: Saturday -- Being car-free does not necessarily equate to being carefree in the suburbs. We had a food crisis as there was a miscommunication about what food was left in the house when Tony left for MD. He seems to think that, like Macguyver, I can construct healthy meals out of dust and sunshine. Claire and I ordered pizza.

Update #2: Sunday -- It's 93 and we're trapped here on this dead-end street with no car and no AC. I sat outside in a chair from 10am until 7pm, reading, watching Claire paint the driveway (watered down craft paint + large rags and paint brushes = magic), and generally lazing around like a lump. It was the only thing we could do.

Update #3: Post-mortem -- We need a pair of walking / running shoes for Claire. Her new sneakers are wholly inadequate for distance walking. And the Town of Elon needs to fix the multi-use path on University Drive - STAT! Grrr.