Posts Tagged ‘farming’

Going green should not be scary. I feel like so many people are intimidated by the vastness of the ecological movement, of sustainability, of the color green. In his TED conference talk, “The paradox of choice,” Barry Schwartz explains how too many choices can paralyze us from making a decision. I learned the same theory from my marketing professor in college, who explained why psychoeconomics is so important to businesses. Given similar conditions between two grocery stores, for example, the store with 15 varieties of chips will ultimately attract more business than a store with 75 varieties. Interesting.

These days, it’s overwhelming how many articles and people and blog posts and news stories are giving us ways to go green. Perhaps it is this inundation with information that is holding so many of us back from actually making the choices. Where do we begin? In What About Bob, one of my favorite early 90s comedies, Bill Murray, the main character, uses the mantra “baby steps” to help sort out his life. It worked for him, and it can work for us. Do some research, but not too much at first, and pick one or two changes that you can stick with. This is much more manageable than trying to green the world all at once. Below are my four suggestions, all of which not only reduce the oft-cited carbon footprint but are also economically justifiable (they will save you money!):

1. Stop buying bottled water.

A chilled plastic bottle of water in the convenience-store cooler is the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel. Yes, it’s just a bottle of water–modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer. But when a whole industry grows up around supplying us with something we don’t need–when a whole industry is built on the packaging and the presentation–it’s worth asking how that happened, and what the impact is. And if you do ask, if you trace both the water and the business back to where they came from, you find a story more complicated, more bemusing, and ultimately more sobering than the bottles we tote everywhere suggest.

I understand that bottled water is convenient, but seriously folks, it’s a scam. You are paying for something that you have access to already (at least in a handful of the developed countries). If you want to read more about the industry and its negative effects on the environment, check out “Message in a Bottle. If you are looking for a stylish, eco-friendly water bottle to get started, check out www.mysigg.com.

2. Change all your light bulbs in your home/office to CFL.

Sitting humbly on shelves in stores everywhere is a product, priced at less than $3, that will change the world. Soon. It is a fairly ordinary item that nonetheless cuts to the heart of a half-dozen of the most profound, most urgent problems we face. Energy consumption. Rising gasoline costs and electric bills. Greenhouse-gas emissions. Dependence on coal and foreign oil. Global warming.

The product is the compact fluorescent lightbulb, a quirky-looking twist of frosted glass. In the energy business, it is called a “CFL,” or an “energy saver.” One scientist calls it an “ice-cream-cone spiral,” because in its most-advanced, most-appealing version, it looks like nothing so much as a cone of swirled soft-serve ice cream.

CFL – meaning compact fluorescent lamp – lightbulbs are the way to go. They emit the same amount of light as regular bulbs but use 75-80% less energy. To learn more, check out “How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World. One. And You’re Looking at it.”

3. Spend less time in the car.

If you have not heard already, China, in preparation for the August Olympic Games, recently put into effect an even-odd license plate law that will help lessen the effects of traffic congestion on the environment. While we probably couldn’t get away with something like this in America, damn it’s a good idea. Sure, I’m a bit upset that gas prices are so high, but hopefully this will force us all to change our habits. Carpool. Bike. Take the bus! I highly recommend WalkScore.com, an interactive map that grades your location based on how many common services – grocery stores, libraries, schools, etc. – are within walking distance. When I lived in St. Louis, I used the site to find nearby bars and even came across a used bookstore that I never knew existed.

4. Start an indoor/outdoor garden.

You don’t have to become a locavore, but cultivating a few plants is a good idea. Indoor plants absorb toxins and can create healthier living spaces, while outdoor plants can yield fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables that can spice up your cooking. Check out The GRS Garden Project to see how growing your own food requires little labor but can help offset the rising cost of food.

I challenge you to discuss these suggestions with your local Jewish community. Urge your synagogues to use CFL lightbulbs and sponsor a community gardening project. It’s a lot easier than you think. The evidence is overwhelming. In the face of too many choices, sometimes we need a little guidance to take action.

Please send any success stories to pitaronpark [at] gmail.com!


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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, was recommended to me somewhat randomly by a colleague, off of a general discussion about the lunch we were eating. I ordered it on a whim off of Amazon, and after receiving it, looking at the cover, I wasn’t particularly excited about the impulsive purchase I had made. By the time I was 150 pages in, I was overwhelmed with new information, terrified by some of the problems presented in the book, and inspired to do something (which partly led to the impulse to create this site). Among the most notable/thought-provoking ideas in the book are:

In the first section of the book, where Pollan describes how “industrial” food is created, he spends a good deal of the section discussing the evolution of corn in American food and how it has become a staple of many processed foods, which makes up a significant part of the average American’s diet. This may be less of a surprise to observant Jews who, every year around this time, become very aware of the prevalence of high fructose corn syrup in foods to observe Passover, but the resources, efforts and culture devoted to growing corn were still remarkably and clearly outlined. The most interesting part of the section to me was not specifically about corn, but rather the artificial nitrates used in fertilizer for corn. Nitrates in nature are basically a closed system; since nitrogen is so stable, creating new nitrates only happens in extreme circumstances, ie lightening striking. But, in the early 20th century, a (Jewish!) scientist named Fritz Haber figured out how to artificially synthesize nitrates, thus breaking open the system, and things haven’t been the same since. Who knows what the effects of changing the chemical composition of our world are/will be?

In the second section of the book, Pollan visits a sustainable, organic farm-organization called Polyface Farms, run by a man named Joel Satalin. Satalin’s rants/insights are among the most entertaining and insightful parts of the book, and he masterfully synthesizes strong beliefs in individualism, libertarianism, sustainability and faith into a fascinating world view. In addition to tearing down any illusions I had about what “organic food” really is and made me appreciate the thought and effort put into running a sustainable system, I was also struck by Satalin’s religion. Though not a fanatic, Satalin’s faith is a key part of his outlook and, though he is not Jewish, I felt a resonance, and a hope that perhaps a similarly Jewish project might not be so impossible.

In the last section of the book, Pollan sets out to create the perfect meal; by his criteria, this means a relatively tasty and nutritious meal made up exclusively of foods that he has grown/gathered himself. Not only does this include more typical items such as vegetables from his garden, but also more exotic components such as wild boar that he hunts himself (apparently, this is doable in California…gotta love it). The striking part of this for me was that Pollan is, in fact, a Jew, something that he refers to a couple of times in the book. To see any type of non-kosher item prepared by a Jew in a “perfect” meal would be striking to me; to include pork is almost comical. To me, this speaks to the importance of this blog. It must be possible to find a synthesis combining the values that Pollan espouses without totally ignoring Jewish tradition and heritage, and while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pollan and his work, I certainly hope that this is but the first step in the process of finding an environmentally sustainable Judaism.

Overall, a highly recommended read to gain tons more information about what you’re eating, where it comes from, what it might mean, and how you can begin to do something about it.

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