Tag Archives: food

Progress Against 2020 Goals in the First Quarter of the Year

Here is a breakdown by goal of my progress so far in 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: An electric lawn mower and weed eater are in the garage ready to go. I cannot wait to report on the run times for the batteries and the overall experience of completely shedding small engines for yard maintenance.  Some other projects, most notably a new electric air source heat pump water heater, are going to have to wait until the restrictions around coronavirus subside.  In a way, all of this restriction on travel, which leads to less shopping and wasteful trips, is decarbonizing my life.  It’s not good to be going through this saga, but the energy diet is a nice side effect.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: This one is a little hard for me to imagine right now as we are not driving at all. The cars in our garage are basically sitting save for a weekly trip to get groceries.  I will be very curious to see what our mileage totals look like for the month of April as the lockdown continues.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: 47.93 miles by the end of March. It’s not much, but it is ahead of last year’s pace.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: A goal for warmer weather. Stay tuned.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: Check out the details here. A little bit of a misstep as I prepared for coronavirus lockdown by buying up some cans from local breweries.
  • Read 40 Books: 22 books down. Not too shabby for one quarter.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: This is a goal for the spring, so look forward to some progress now that the temperature has gone up and the snow is off the ground. Plus, what else am I going to do in a world where we are sheltering in place.
  • Maximize Local Food: Until about mid-March I was killing it with local food. According to my calculations, local food comprised almost 50% of my grocery spend.  Then coronavirus happened and we decided to stock up.  A couple of big trips to warehouse clubs and weekly grocery pickup have killed my local grocery shopping.  Even so, local groceries make up about 33% of my household grocery spend.  I am hoping to improve upon that in the coming months as we all learn how to navigate a world impacted by coronavirus.

A Home Based Life in the Age of COVID-19

We are all living a home based life now if we are following the recommendations of health officials for limiting contact with the broader public.  The oddity of this situation for my household is that this is something we had been trying to accomplish over the last year or so to varying levels of success.

Now, with COVID-19’s spread leading to varying degrees of closure, we are all being forced to live a home based life.

We are increasingly working from home and it seems like everyone is using Zoom to keep in touch.

We are eating most, if not all, our meals from our own kitchens as restaurants are being forced to close or go to take-out only service and grocery stores cease offering prepared food.

We have stopped shopping in retail stores and waves of closures have shown us just how little we actually need to shop for in most cases.

We have dramatically reduced our daily driving, cratering demand for oil, and reducing the amount of transportation related pollution in our skies.

None of this is “good” because it comes as a result of an external crisis rather than internal determination, but it can illuminate a future that is a little less focused on pure consumer consumption and go-go lifestyles centered on fast paced work cultures.

Granted, a lot of us are going a little stir crazy as our kids are entering another week away from school and there are just so many dishes.  Multiple meals a day inside the house and snacks make so much work for hands already stripped of moisture from vigorous hand washing.

Friday Linkage 2/28/2020

Something about leap year just throws me off.  My mind is so wrapped around twenty-eight days in February that an extra day just seems…wrong.

Granted, a lot of stuff seems wrong right now.  That seems to be the theme of our world.
On to the links…

Is This the Year Democrats Finally Take Down Steve King?—We can hope so.  However, his potential primary opponent is Randy Feenstra is just another right wing extremist with a gentler demeanor.

The Green Miles—If I was Jeff Bezos—I realize that this article is in a paper that he owns—I would spend some of my $10 billion dollar pledge on efforts just like this.  How much good could be done by reforesting mountaintop removal mining sites across Appalachia.

How Can Jeff Bezos Spend $10 Billion Fighting Climate Change? We Have a Few Ideas.—See above.

Environment and Animal Rights Activists Being Referred to Prevent Programme—Green is the new red.  Across the globe environmental activists are being lumped together with the worst violent extremists in a bid to stifle protest.

Renewable Energy Could Power the World by 2050—We know that it is possible.  How do we make it probable?

Australia’s Electricity Market Must be 100% Renewables by 2035 to Achieve Net Zero by 2050—The path is clear.

Want Cheaper Electricity? Xcel Energy Wants to Help — If You’re Willing to do Your Laundry at 2 a.m.—Want to deal with the problem of the “duck curve?”  Institute time of day or time of use pricing.  Between shifting behaviors and advances in energy storage we can deploy ever increasing amounts of renewable energy.

The False Promise of “Renewable Natural Gas”—When a fossil fuel company promises something is renewable it is likely to be a Trojan Horse.  Do not trust fossil fuel companies bearing gifts.

Drax Power Plant to Stop Burning Coal—The closure of the largest coal burning power plant in England is now four years ahead of schedule.  Coal is in its death throes.

Closing Of Coal Power Plants Means Debates On What To Do With The Water They Used—Coal plants use a lot of water.  One of the benefits on moving to renewables is a release of those water rights for other uses.

Most Used Wind Turbine Blades End Up in Landfills. Colorado is Part of the Push to Make the Industry Greener.—This is the latest critique of wind power from the right wing.  As if fossil fuels have no waste products.  Never mind comparing the relative harm of a windmill blade versus fracking wastewater or mine tailings.  Which one would you want in your community?

How to Reduce Your Food’s Carbon Footprint, in 2 Charts—The moral of the story is really eat less meat:

carbon_impact_of_food

Meat Company Faces Heat Over ‘Cattle Laundering’ in Amazon Supply Chain—You cannot trust the source of your meat unless you know the rancher or farmer.  The supply chains are too large and too complex.  The meat companies also have a vested financial interest in keeping their supply chains as opaque as possible.

What Happens When You Give Up Plastic—I do not know if the goal needs to be zero plastic.  It may be more beneficial for everyone to aim for no stupid plastic.

Oh, No, Not Knotweed!—I have not had the “pleasure” of experiencing knotweed first hand, but everyone I know fears this invasive.

Who Owns Your Grocery Store?

Take a moment and consider the following statistics:

Groceries and food are unique in that all Americans buy groceries and food—the difference being that food can be purchased both in its ingredient form (e.g. groceries) and its prepared form (e.g. restaurant meals)—regardless of income level, race, etc.  This is literally something that we all should be interested in.

I would contend, however, that most consumers do not give a second thought to groceries outside of what they write on weekly shopping lists.  Granted, there are informed consumers who seek to maximize their grocery dollars or seek to spend their grocery dollars on products that match a certain set of beliefs.  In a nearly $850 billion market there are a lot of people who just go about their business in a routine.

It’s not merely about funneling dollars from corporations that do not share your beliefs—although that is a big part of the allure—but also about creating an economic system where small purveyors can access markets.  If you are a producer of anything, be it food or lawn mowers or children’s toys, supply to Walmart means being big.  Like really big.  If you are a local grower with a seasonal schedule Walmart or Kroger will not even take your call.

However, these are the kinds of enterprises that we need to support in a world where our food increasingly comes from fewer and fewer suppliers.  It is not a sustainable or resilient system to have single points of failure for entire segments of our food system.  That is where we stand right now.  If Tyson Foods went out of business tomorrow how much chicken would disappear from the shelves of your grocery store?  My guess is a lot.

This is where our grocery spend comes into play.  We can choose to spend our grocery dollars on a daily basis at stores that support local providers.  The best part is that this is not a change that requires a serious capital outlay—like buying an EV or installing solar panels—and it does not require large lifestyle changes—you are still shopping for groceries after all.

The goal is to find a locally owned retailer of groceries and shop there as much as possible.  It’s a little like George W. Bush imploring the American people to go shopping after the attacks on September 11th.

It’s a little more complex than that, but the idea is extremely simple.

In my household we spend an average of ~$770 per month on groceries based on actual spend going back to last summer.  Yes, I have a problem with tracking things on spreadsheets.  My goal is to direct as much of that monthly spend to local retailers and providers of food.  It is fairly easy for me to shop local since I have access to an excellent cooperative grocery store—NewPi—and a vibrant selection of farmers’ markets when the weather improves.  I would contend that most people also have access to these kinds of retail outlets.  Take a moment and find your local coop.

As it stands right now for the year, our household spend is ~40% local.  There is much room for improvement.

Personal Goals for 2020

Welcome to 2020 folks.

I have always said that I do not do “resolutions.”  Except for the year I told people that I was going to take up smoking, gain weight, and drink more.  Granted, I failed on all three but I made some resolutions. However, I will make some goals.

The reason I publish these goals and cadence them on this blog is that I have found it is hugely effective in getting me to execute.  The power of accountability. What follows does build on what I wanted to achieve in 2019.

Here are my goals for 2020:

  • Deeper decarbonization: It is one thing to put solar panels on your roof and buy an electric vehicle.  That is just the start. As I look at my household energy use holistically I can see several opportunities for deeper decarbonization.  A couple of examples: replacing an aging gasoline powered lawn mower with an electric lawn mower; replacing an existing natural gas fired water heater with an electric air source heat pump “smart” water heater.
  • Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: It is one thing to replace a gasoline powered mile with an electric powered mile, but it is an even better thing to replace all of these miles with human powered miles.  Why? While an EV is orders of magnitude more efficient than an ICE vehicle, both pale in comparison to the efficiency of human powered transit. It is not just about the direct energy costs of delivering a human being to their desired location, but the embodied energy of the infrastructure required for cars.
  • Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: Last year I rode over 3,000 miles.  I am keeping the goal the same for this year because I am looking to incorporate more commuting into my summer riding and I am going to try and branch out with some different riding.  Maybe I will even get back into mountain biking after almost a decade out of the saddle.
  • Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: There are so many potentially amazing trails just in my region that I have not ridden.  It is easy to become complacent and ride the “usual.” I am going to try and break out of the rut.
  • Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: It is one thing to buy local beer, but it is better to buy it directly from the brewery without creating packaging waste.  Combining all three is like the holy grail of beer consumption.
  • Read 40 Books: Last year I read 51 books against a goal of 25 books.  I guess that I was sandbagging a little bit. Moving the goal up to 40 books, but there are a lot of thick and dense tomes on my book list.  Like Capital in the Twenty First Century dense.
  • Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: There is too much grass.  Our lawns are giant monocultures that are crying to be diversified.  The goal this year is to take some of that grass out and replace it with diverse plantings that are beneficial for both the environment and wildlife.
  • Maximize Local Food: Month in and month out, food is the second largest expense in my household after a mortgage payment.  Directing as much of this money as possible to local vendors and producers is the single biggest change that I can make in 2020.  I have about three months of detailed information from the end of 2019 when I began thinking about this as a baseline, so I think I will know if I am doing a decent job.

Friday Linkage 1/11/2019

The “upside” of the partial federal government shutdown is that agencies run by Trumpian golems cannot work overtime to destroy our land, water, and air.  Trust me, if given the opportunity the EPA under Wheeler would like to redefine mercury as a dietary supplement and the BLM would like to put a fracking pad in every backyard.

On to the links…

How We can Combat Climate Change—The fact that opinion pieces like this are appearing in major American newspapers and other news outlets has me hopeful that this marks the point in time when we, collectively as a species, start to really tackle climate change.

2018 Was A “Fulcrum Year” For Renewable Energy In The US—We can hope that 2018 marked the point when renewable energy became the default choice for utilities and consumers.  Everything after is just math.

The EPA Hired GOP Oppo Firm Because It Was Sick of “Fake News”—You have to love modern Republicans under Trump.  Their world view is set and anything that does not conform to that world view is “fake news.”  Is 2020 going to be another bloodbath for the Republican party?

5% of US Coal Fleet Retired Last Year—Trump can bluster.  Trump can bellow.  Trump can hold all the rallies he wants wearing hard hearts, point to signs about how he “digs” coal, and soothe the audience with his slow jam about beautiful coal.  He cannot, however, stop the inevitable decline of the use of coal as a fuel for producing electricity.

More Coal Plants Shut Down in Trump’s First Two Years than in Obama’s Entire First Term—See, Trump is better than Obama.

Colorado could Save $2.5 Billion by Rapidly Shutting Down its Coal Power Plants—That is $2.5 billion dollars.  That is before accounting for things like externalities which currently do not figure into the economics of running a coal plant.

Texas’s Wind and Sunlight Complement Each Other Exceptionally Well. That’s Huge for its Grid.—The idea here is that Texas can get over the problem of intermittent renewable energy by deploying more renewable energy that happens to be complementary.

With Vineyard Wind, the U.S. Finally Goes Big on Offshore Wind Power—Offshore wind power can bring cheap, reliable green energy to the eastern seaboard of the United States.  At 6.5 cents per kWh this project is cost competitive with coal and natural gas today.  Furthermore, without the possibility of increases in fuel prices—just wait for the next natural gas price spike—these low prices are essentially locked in.

Why Solar Panels Should Go From Rooftops to Mountaintops—Maybe the answer is to deploy more solar wherever we can?

A Major Climate Treaty to Reduce Air Conditioning Emissions Just Went Into Force—Without the U.S.—These are the kinds of efforts that the U.S. needs to be supporting.  However, Trump hears the words treaty and assumes that the U.S. is “losing.”

Why Efforts to Make Buildings Greener Fail—I am beginning to think that any building that starts out with the promise of being “green” is just a temporary charade.

Dutch Eco Initiative Halves Energy Bills in First UK Homes—Even though so-called green building fail to meet their promise so often does not mean that there is not great potential to make our existing fleet of buildings so much more efficient.  Remember, every kWh saved is one less that we have to generate with renewables.  We can get to 100% renewable energy by deploying more sources and reducing our consumption.

Is Organic Food Over?—I feel like this headline is a decade late.  Organic has been coopted by big food and there is no looking back.  This gets to why knowing who the producer of your food is so important if you want to align your values with your consumption.

Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Ski Venue Set To Be Demolished—This move was planned before the Olympics, but the waste is just amazing.  The Olympics, as an event, should be killed.

Bar Soap is Making a Glorious Comeback—Millenials can’t kill bar soap because bar soap is the killer app of getting clean.  Leave your loofahs and shower gel at the door.

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.