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Archive for July, 2010

Zane holding a bowl of farm stand nectarines. Local, delicious and possibly full of pesticides and fungicides. Do the local fruit pros outweigh the non-organic cons?

A chicken says puck. A cow says moo. But what exactly does a farmer say? Depends on the farmer it seems. Yesterday in Germantown NY I had a farmer at a farm stand walk up to me with a yellow plum and tell me all about conventional farming and how safe it was.

“Thought you’d like to try these,” he said, “while you’re perusing.”

I held the little golden globe in my hand. It was as cheery as the sun shining across the Hudson on the Catskills. Our own sky was smokey gray and foreboding.

“Do you spray?” I asked — gently and respectfully of course.

He shuffled his feet in the gravel.

“Course, we spray. Got to spray. You can’t grow a stone fruit in the Northeast if you don’t spray. Pacific Northwest, they don’t have the same problems. It’s dry there. Don’t have as many pests. Don’t need the same kind of fungicides.”

I nodded. I didn’t mention that  for the last week, we’d been eating a box of yellow plums from the CSA. They were identical to the free samples he’d just handed out except they were organic. Or at least I thought they were organic.

“So you spray the peaches too? How often?”

“All the stone fruit. If someone says they’re giving you organic stone fruit, it’s a lie. Besides, some of those organic pesticides are very toxic. And you need to use tons of them. Chemicals are expensive. You think we want to use chemicals. We don’t. Hell,” he added, “I’ve been eating this stuff for years. I used to be bathed in DDT and I’m okay. The guys in the DDT factory, they can’t find any cancer in them. Me neither.”

I didn’t answer. I thought, “Add Does DDT harm people?” to My Frequently Thought About Questions.

“Well,” I said, “I also worry about the environment. I’ve heard that the pesticides leach into the water table.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “The chemicals we use break down within 24 to 48 hours.”

I’m not sure I believe him. Although he isn’t the first farmer to tell me that there are harmful types of organic pesticides — including sulphur in grapes. I definitely need to do that research. And I am adding, What are organic pesticides? and Do conventional fungicides and pesticides biodegrade? to my list of questions to research. Is the agricultural waste from small farms as much as an environmental impact as big farms? And what about petro chemical fertilizers? I never even asked him if he used those.

But back to my farm stand.  I really  wanted to buy the peaches. But I knew that peaches are on the EWG Dirty Dozen. At the top of the list.  According to the EWG, peaches had been treated with more pesticides than any other produce, registering combinations of up to 67 different chemicals.

I couldn’t remember where nectarines were on the list, so  bought them instead. In terms of being potentially pesticide riche, they actually are pretty bad too. According to the EWG, over 95% have been tested with pesticides. But I didn’t know that when I bought them. I only knew that they felt hard but when we bit into them, they were dripping sweetness. The kids were wolfing them down.

Farm stands are part of what makes summer summer. God, I would hate to give them up completely. In the best of all possible worlds  we could get the stone fruits of summer at our local farms without pesticides and fungicides that could potentially hurt our children or the environment.  Or maybe that farmer is right, and it’s all ok.

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Blaise cannon balls into Vermont watering hole. What we do now to oppose environmental contamination -- from fracking for natural gas, to lead leaching out of the landfill -- that will help make sure that one day he can watch his son splash into a watering hole like this, too.

Ok. I’m clearly not alone in my obsession with reducing garbage. This weekend, in the Lower East Side, on the iconic Hester Street no less, there’ll be scores of people (much trendier than me) contemplating their garbage cans and wondering how to keep their shit out of landfill. That’s because this weekend, July 24-25 is Zero Waste Weekend and people will be flocking to the Hester Street Fair to find out more about living urban green.

Here’s a few points from the Hester Street Fair website that I thought were interesting:

Food Scrap Surprise: In my last impromptu science class with my brother the geochemical oceanographer he told me that food will break down in the landfill, but that by composting it, you also get the added byproduct of super-rich soil. Well, according to the Hester Street Fair website, our landfills are so compressed with food waste, that much of it doesn’t even get decomposed. (YAY worm box!)

Electronic overload: 40% of the lead found in our landfills comes from electronic waste. The fear, it seems, is that the toxic lead could leach out of the landfill and into the groundwater.

It’s funny, this weekend in Vermont, we were swimming in a little swimming hole in the bend of a river and I thought how clean and pristine so much of the planet looks. It’s easy to see why so many people don’t want to believe that the earth is in danger. There’s enough much natural beauty to trick us into complacency.

But even in my lifetime I have seen forests turn into subdivisions, farms into shopping malls and wild land become roads that lead to condos or hotels.

It’s not easy, but a first step is education and  re-evaluating all the stuff we believe we need and for me at least, it’s been about trying to figure out how to rethink my disposable lifestyles.  And starting to let the powers that be know that I’m not ok with policies that threaten my natural resources. ( I did send letters to NYC Senate and Congressman telling them that I supported remove the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act for frac-ing   Go to  http://gaslandthemovie.com/take-action/contact-elected-officials, they make it super easy.)

Sounds like the Hester Street Fair might be a fun way to get educated and for me a place to safely get rid of that Dell laptop that hasn’t worked since 2005.

Find out more about the Hester Street Fair and Zero Waste Weekend.

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On Sunday, we trekked out to Ramsey to  visit  friends in their adorable stone cottage. In addition to the very coveted outdoor space –think creeping ivy and tangles of prickly blackberries and roses —  they also have access to a lovely town pool. Much appreciated when the temperature starts hovering in the 90s. As we were packing up to go off to the pool, I noticed that she was filling the kids water bottles with jugs of Spring water. I went for the tap.

“You can’t drink the tap here,” she said.”It has arsenic or something in it. They say it’s safe but nobody believes them.”

Ironically, the night before, I’d started to watch Gasland, an HBO documentary on natural gas drilling. Gasland basically documents how and why our water supply (and air) is in jeopardy from drilling for natural gas. When I say “our” I mean the we who live here in NYC. For a lot of the country, horrible things, apocalyptic things are already happening as a result of natural gas drilling.

Josh Fox, a filmmaker gets an offer for 100,000 in order to allow a natural gas company to drill on his land. The film answers a very simple question: “What will happen if I let them do that.”

The answer is horrifying. All across the United States people are getting sick and dying as a result of water and air pollution caused by the drilling, or what they call “fracing” of natural gas. Large portions of the state of Wyoming, land preserves that were once protected by the government are now pocked and scarred with drill rigs and toxic chemical wastewater pools. The toxic pools are seeping into our water tables. The fumes from the rig are poisoning our air.  Toxic fumes are being released in poisonous clouds in as disparate places as the ranches of Colorado to cities in Texas.  And all over, the landscape of America is being bulldozed in order to create drill sites. When you look at this screen grab from the Gasland website, you can see they are everywhere.

WTF’s I learned from this film:

  • During his tenure, Dick Cheney pushed through a 2005 Energy Bill which exempted hydraulic fracturing (frac ing)  from the Safe Drinking Water Act
  • The state of Wyoming has worse air right now than LA
  • All across the country, there are people whose tap water is so contaminated by natural gas, they can light it on fire
  • The EPA has been told to turn its back and not report on the severity of this issue

It’s unbelievable that this is happening right in front of our eyes.

I had touched on this subject at the end of May when the state of New York passed legislation to deny natural gas companies drilling rights on land that borders the reservoirs in the Catskills. We are safe for another year or two, but our Catskill’s Reservoirs, one of the largest unfiltered water sources in the world supplies a lot of people in NYC clean water. It supplies me water. It supplies my children with water.

While the Gasland film is a gruesome wake up call, Fox also provides us with next steps. The Gasland website details action that we can take to pressure the government to start doing its job. It’s organized around states.  It’s easy to use.

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Ten years ago, I bought a leather sofa. I was pregnant and I wanted something durable. Leather seemed like a good choice. I even paid for the special , “We fix it if it rips insurance.”  I never for a moment thought about the politics of buying leather or if the cow I was sitting on was grass-fed. Ah, those were the good old days.

Meanwhile fast forward, a decade later — or really two boys later — and the sofa is shot. The leather is fine. It’s perfect in fact. But the frame had not survived the years of, “Get off the couch. Now!”

So for about a year now, we’ve been sitting on a sofa with a dip in the back and a big hole in the middle so that when you sit down, you sink down and hit the wooden frame. I knew it had to go.

Last weekend, I inherited my parent’s living room sofa. But when it came to removing our not-so-gently used leather sofa, I didn’t want to just leave it on the side of the road. I mean, the couch was busted, but the leather was not. It seemed a waste to toss it.

I called Wearable Collections, the people who gather textiles at the Green Markets around New York City. I had recently learned that they divert scrap fabric from the landfills, but I wasn’t sure if they would take leather.

“Sure,” the guy said, “If they’re big pieces they’ll get re used.”

Maybe I’m crazy, but this made me happy.

So, we got to work. All and all in didn’t take that much time.  As an added bonus, I also recycled the metal legs and any loose screws (no jokes please). Then we hacked the frame with the joy and abandonment of a punk band in a 70’s hotel room.

Hey, you know what they say, recycling can be fun.

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Playing hide and seek with corrugated cardboard coasters (recycled we assume) and feeling giddily green at ABC Kitchen.

Kids in camp meant very unsustainable (albeit delicious) week eating out. On our way out of Rosa Mexicana, where we ate gobs of guacamole (don’t want to think about where those piles of avocados came from) we stopped in to have a drink at ABC Kitchen.

Located in the ABC Carpet building, ABC Kitchen is the newest endeavor of Jean-Georges Vongerichten —  it looks like  farm-to-table eating for movie stars.  Reservations take about a month to get, and I probably will indulge, but if you want to hear about the restaurant from someone who actually ate there, check out this New York Times Review. All I can tell you was that  the ambiance, the company, and the ginger margarita were all amazing.

I’m sort of out of it about what’s hot in NYC. (Remember, I’m normally home trying to make my kids eat Quinoa.) So I started  surfing around to dig up info about what is clearly a new hot restaurant. The url for ABC kitchen is abckitchennyc.com but when I went there I saw that the restaurant was only one fork in some multi-pronged capitalist venture that includes the ABC Carpet store, the chain Belgian bakery le pain quotidien and the ABC Home & Planet Foundation which smelled a bit like a tax shelter to me. I have no evidence to back this up. And I don’t want to trash them, they seem to be giving lots of money to good causes. But when I clicked on the link to the NPR press about ABC Home & Planet Foundation I ended up at banner ad telling me I could save up to 75% off a new rug or home accessory.

Still, despite my cynicism, I do believe it is in our best interest to make as public as possible the farm to table philosophy. And by creating aspirational culinary experiences, like ABC Kitchen  it helps to mainstream more eco-friendly eating.

While I was surfing I also hit on a Michael Pollan article from the New York Review of Books.  In Pollan’s articulate and comprehensive chronicle, this passage really struck a chord with me:

“The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.”

I guess, what I’m trying to say is that, while ABC Kitchen communicates community and pleasure, I wonder if the community it is catering to is actually the people carving out a new social and economic spaces? Or is it trying to make a certain type of person in a certain social class feel comfortable about living in the status quo except on special occasions. And, although the ABC kitchen is a bit in the special treat section of my budget,  I definitely put myself in that category.

In the end, I guess I see ABC Kitchen in the same way I see organic milk at Wal-Mart. Not a solution but definitely some sort of step in the right direction .

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We dropped the kids off at Camp Fuller in Rhode Island on Sunday. For lunch before we ate in a little seafood place right on Point Judith Marina. David, my friend who had also been to Camp Fuller, reminded me that we used to canoe up to this place for ice cream. We had clam cakes – which are basically donuts made with big chunks. They’re a greasy bite from my childhood.

There’s definitely a place in my life for nostalgic eating.

But, after we dropped them off, John and I searched for a local table. It was a bit slim pickings. Once place in New London looked great, but it was closed after 4. I had thought there might be something in Mystic, CT. All John saw on the web was a juice bar, but we  stopped anyway.

We parked on a side street and as we wandered toward the main drag I spotted a little store with a mannequin with a bright pink messenger bag that read: Make Love Not Trash. It was like I had found my battle cry.

The shop, called Chartreuse, was filled with fun folky recycled or reclaimed “earth-friendly” clothes and accessories.

I talked to Beth the owner of the shop. Originally a textile designer, she was teaching a class in recycling and post consumer textiles and her students began to bring in examples of recycled materials – clothing, handbags, coasters, etc. She thought, all this amazing stuff should be in under one roof.  So five years ago, she opened shop.

She says that she racked her brains for a name for the shop, but finally landed on her favorite color – chartreuse. She was pleased to notice that the word art was buried in chartreuse, but then was amazed to realize that when you break out chartreuse – you get art and reuse too!

I loved the tote bags made out of old newspapers and the gorgeous purses made out of old soda tabs from Escama Studio. Apparently, there was a messenger bag that had just been sold. And of course, there was this fun funky bag from MakeLoveNotTrash

Check out Chartreusue

3 Pearl Street
Mystic CT 06355
860-536- 1409

info@chartreusecollection.com

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My neighbor and fellow bus-stop-mom-friend said that her mother-in-law treks her plastic up to Rhode Island and that Rhode Island will take #1 and #2 plastic. I was excited because the trunk of my car is filled with plastic that I have been collecting since April. Lately, my frustration with the pile of garbage in my house has made me want to toss those suckers into the trash. Then last night we watched Addicted to Plastic on the Sundance Channel.

Addicted to Plastic was good on a lot of levels. It wasn’t a judgmental. It simply laid out the history of plastic over the last 100 years. In a nutshell, when petro-chemical plastic was created they thought it would change how we live and give us more leisure time.  It’s amazing in that it can be used to make a whole wide range of super durable stuff. Except for a small percentage of down cycling, every piece of plastic that was ever created still exists.

But the biggest WTF for me was the whirlpools of plastic floating around in the ocean — everything from garden furniture to tiny bits and bobs — they referred to the ocean as plastic soup. The smaller bit mimic organic food like fish egg and  are easily ingested by fish and other marine wildlife.  And to make matters worse the chemistry of plastics attracts other toxic pollutants.  By entering the food chain, the toxic stuff is passed on to our plates. Once again, I find you can’t think about food without thinking about garbage.

But it’s not all bad news. Many companies are investigating in creating plastics from plants. These bio plastics are bio degradable and sometimes compostable — like the SunChips bag or the container from my Farmer’s Market beans. They can be made from renewable raw materials like starch from corn, potato, tapioca, or other plants and vegetables.

Ironically we are going to Rhode Island this weekend. As I gleefully went through my plastic I found that one of my  little evil cups is made by Trellis Earth. Not only is this bio plastic compostable but it also breaks down in the airless environment of the landfill — paper towels don’t even do that! (See below for more scientific explanation.) I wish I could remember where that bit of plastic came from — so I could go back and eat take out guilt free.

Where to watch Addicted to Plastic:

http://www.documentary-log.com/d402-addicted-to-plastic/

From the Trellis Earth website:

“Yes, Trellis Earth™ products are made from ingredients that when decomposed become inert elements supportive of natural biological processes with non-toxic results. Our products are specifically engineered to biodegrade in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill using state-of-the-art technology.  Many critics of biodegradable plastics technology are not familiar with this technology and are only disparaging old technology when they denounce efforts to introduce biodegradability via anaerobic microbiological activity.  Making high biomass content bio-plastic blends biodegradable in the landfill has become an approach pioneered by Trellis Earth.”  Learn more >

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