Saturday, December 26, 2009

Easier Than You Think

In the spirit of my new mentality, my boyfriend and I decided to make Christmas as non-consumer and sustainable as possible. Absent family aside (both our families live abroad), it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous Christmas.

Here's what we did:

Decorations - I love Christmas and could not deny myself a real Christmas tree. I had hoped to purchase one from a sustainable farm, but I missed the order deadline by 3 days, so I decided to purchase my tree from TROSA, a residential program in Durham that provides comprehensive treatment, work-based vocational training, education, and continuing care to former substance abusers. What better way to enjoy the holidays, then giving back to the community.
After they trimmed the tree, I took the extra branches home with me. I had always wanted to make my own wreath, but had never really known how. It turned out to be simpler than I thought! I sorted through the branches and found a few long ones that I tied together at the base. I wove them into a circle and tied them again at the top. I stuck some more branches in to thicken it and added some recycled red berry stems. I also took some other branches which I flattened out and tied together with a rubber band to create a card holder for my Christmas cards. I can't tell you how easy it was to do and it looked so good!

Christmas Dinner - Except for the wine and a few other ingredients, we kept our menu organic and/or local. The menu consisted of brie and organic fig spread on pumpernickel toast, oven-baked ham, stuffed chicken, potato gratin, green beans with bacon and shallots and a fantastic apple tart with ice cream for dessert. The ham and bacon used in the gratin and green beans was local North Carolina pasture raised pork. The chicken, pineapple, potatoes, green beans, apples and sugar were all organic and we attempted if possible to purchase them locally or from the states closest to NC. The cheeses were imported from Europe, but also organic and rBST-free. The milk, whipping cream and ice cream were organic and/or local. We had two friends over and everyone loved every single part of the meal.
(Recipes can be found at "Uncomplicated Recipes")

Gifts - In the words of one of our friends, we were very "low-maintenance" this year. We got many of our traveling friends carbon offsets from Native Energy and My boyfriend got me rechargeable batteries (a re-gift I was totally happy to accept), a Precycle Kit - a program that reduces your junk mail, plants 5 trees and sends you 2 CFL light bulbs and a reusable shopping bag- and Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood -which is not necessarily a non-consumer gift, but Atwood's focus in this book is the environment and through the book she is raising money for a variety of environmentally focused non-profits. Together with my mom and his sister, I got my boyfriend 2 Bontrager Grocery Bags that fit on his bike and eliminate the need of a car when grocery shopping, and I filled the bags with some local art, a water bottle (my re-gift to him), home-made dog treats, BioBags, and home-made almond butter. Maybe low-maintenance, but we were both very happy!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Eco-Friendly Christmas

I went to the mall today and of course the Christmas shoppers were in full force. Stores are stocked with sweaters, shirts, pants, dresses, coats, toys, electronics, lotions, perfumes etc etc etc etc in every size, scent and color. Consumerism is at it's peak. There are a million deals to be found and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to be spent getting holidays gifts for friends, colleagues, and family.

I know it's that time of year when we all make an extra effort to tell and show our loved ones that we care. Giving gifts is a big part of the holiday season and even an ex-consumer does not want to miss out on this tradition. So how do you focus on sustainability and still get great gifts for everyone on your list?

It's turning out to be much simpler than I thought and actually much more meaningful! Once you stop getting sucked in by the colorful advertisements and packaging and start thinking about each person, you realize that people don't actually need a lot of the stuff being advertised. If you focus on 1.what does the person really need, 2.can I get them something local, hand-made or edible, 3.can I get them something that will encourage a green sustainable lifestyle and 4.what gifts are out there for someone who already has everything or doesn't want anything, you realize that you have a world of options.

Take my office for example. Last night we had our holiday party and we exchanged secret Santa gifts and I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful gifts everyone got each other. I personally got a bread pan (so I can make my own bread), reusable napkins(one of my top gift choices as it decreases the use of paper napkins), an I Think Green reusable water bottle (buh-bye plastic) and a gift card (so I can buy my compost pail). People also got plants, restaurant gifts cards and the best gift of the night was Erin's home-made recipe book with all her favorite holiday recipes with some home-cooked/baked goods. Simple, creative and from the heart!

I was also pleasantly surprised when I got my gift card. I used to think gift cards were boring, but they are actually a great idea. Experience gift cards are the best (and have actually been proven to make the recipient happier), but store gift cards can be useful too, especially if you know the person needs something but you aren't sure what to pick for them (like me and my compost pail).

So experience gift cards (restaurants, massages, local shows), local or hand-made items and edible goods are some of the best. But what do you get the person who doesn't want anything or already has everything? I doubt that person wouldn't appreciate edible goods, but you can also consider donations to the person's favorite charity or you can get them some carbon offsets. And if you have kids...well, yes, kids preferably want lots of gifts under the tree, but that doesn't mean you have to go buy all new things...consider yard sales, toy swaps with a friend or neighbor, thrift stores and local hand-made toys.

And of course, remember to minimize your gift wrapping. Use newspapers, reuse gift bags or give your gift in a reusable shopping bag, which the person will be able to continue using! Check out Planet Green for some more ideas!

Happy Holidays! And here's to a greener, more sustainable 2010!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Bottom Line

Undoubtedly we've all heard, if not been part of, the climate change debate. Humans are causing it, scientists are making it up, it's not happening at all, it's happening but it's not because of humans, it's real and reaching irreversible points, it's a total hoax, I've heard it all. My first question to skeptics is, why would we be making up all this stuff? Do you really think it's a global marketing hoax?

I've watched 11th Hour and Home, I've talked to experts, I've seen pictures, I've felt the changes humans are causing...but okay, lets for a second completely forget about climate change and let's look at some other reasons it is beneficial, and absolutely necessary, to switch to a greener, cleaner, more sustainable lifestyle.

Humans may not be the cause of climate change, but here's what we are doing:
1. We are causing irreversible destruction of the earth, our greatest resource.
2. We are engaging in unsustainable use of our resources (food, land, air, water).
3. We are causing obesity and a plethora of diseases by over-processing our foods.
4. We are causing massive amounts of pollution: overflowing landfills, floating landfills and widespread air pollution which is causing and exacerbating many diseases.

Shouldn't we change our ways so that future generations can enjoy the same benefits we have? Don't you want your family and their kids and their kids to live happy, healthy lives? You might not care if the planet gets a few degrees warmer or if the oceans rise a few feet, but you should care about the increasing health risks we expose ourselves to and the dwindling food, water and clean air supply.

So let's agree to disagree on climate change, but what about self-destruction?