Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Wagon and Crawling Back on it

So I've fallen off the healthy eating wagon, fallen with a thud, several thuds, several very heavy thuds.

I've been horrible. Getting off the wagon last year involved me breaking up with an unhealthy influence, an influence who was, just like Jack In The Box spicy chicken biscuits, Arby's French Dips, and Caesar's Pizza, quite treacherous to my health. It happened again, this time for the last time, and I am equally inspired to regain my grip on my life and my health.

I have, through all this, retained my interest in the environment, recycled obsessively, cut down on my energy usage, and generally tried to be a good citizen. However, frequenting the fast food giants has undermined my efforts.

I went to our newly opened Trader Joe's this weekend, me and EVERYONE else in Nashville, I think, and it has renewed my sense of purpose and inspired me to cook - that and the cold weather, I think.

Anyway, goodbye landfill-body, hello temple-body, again. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More Thoughts From the Silver Screen

Last week, we went to see Wall E, thanks to our dear friend over at Green Hills Regal. I kept hearing before I saw it about the homages to 2001 (which I only saw recently, shame on me) and about the amazing graphics and storyline.
I was amazed however, on watching it, that the movie even made it to the big screen. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it seems that most movies with such an overt message that our consumerist, corporation-dominated culture will ultimately end in disaster only see the dim light of day on limited DVD release (think Idiocracy). I'm gratified to see a kids' movie with adult appeal that grapples with these controversial, but ultimately unavoidable issues (if the human race continues on its current path). This movie is essentially saying to kids and the sometimes conservative parents who bring them to the movie that global warming is real, that our waste and consumption is choking the planet, that we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by money and corporations to the detriment of our intelligence and our bodies and that if we continue, this is what our future will be like. And you know what, kids (and parents), that cute little Disney-created-Number 5-lookalike robot might not be there to save us. That's the scary bit.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why is it so hard?

Why is so hard for me to remember to bring my reusable bags to the store? I am getting better about remembering to bring them to the grocery store, but I am useless at remembering to bring them anywhere else. Since watching the 30 Days episode about going off the grid, I feel guilty every time a new plastic bag comes into my possession. I think about it sitting in a landfill for thousands and thousands of years. I think about poor Wall-E having to crush and spit my plastic bags out into a part of a giant skyscraper of waste.
Hopefully these guilt motivators will help me remember!

Murder Mystery

The other day I came home with a splitting headache, you know the kind where you see spots and the ground keeps moving? I came home at about three in the afternoon and crashed out on the couch. I woke up about eleven that night, of course not knowing where I was or what time it was. I tried to move myself to the bed and go back to sleep.
I laid there, and laid there some more, and laid there some more. No sleep.
I finally decided to give in to my awake-ness. I got up, pottered around for a while and started playing on the computer. I had completely forgotten that I had an .avi file of Who Killed the Electric Car? on my computer. It was about 1:30 or so in the morning by this time, but I figured that sleep wasn't going to happen anyway and I might as well watch it.

During the movie, I had the unnerving thought, for an optimist, that the world we live in must be truly evil. I sensed a black cloud forming and I admit to some Darth Vader imagery as well. It seems that if the things depicted in this documentary were actually allowed to happen, were so efficiently covered up, and continue to happen, then the world must actually be a very evil place.

How can people allow themselves to be so controlled by money?, we ask. It must be that the high-ups at GM and Toyota and Shell, etc... must be truly controlled by agents of the Dark Side. I think though, that the human power of denial has much more to do with it. Many of the interviews in this movie show people who justify their decisions and the decisions of their employer and truly believe that they were in the right. I know I'm guilty of making decisions sometimes based on what will be selfishly most profitable for me in the short term. I'm trying to do it less these days, but I think we all naturally have that tendency.

Still, it doesn't excuse the part those companies, their employees, and government agencies played in killing a very viable technology in favour of prolonging our dependence on the status quo, the internal combustion engine. The movie talks to families who live in high smog areas and lists statistics on the lung capacity and efficiency of children brought up in those areas. That alone should make anyone willing to shatter that status quo and embrace new and different solutions.

During my long and tortuous route through my undergraduate education, I took a journalism class. On the first day, my professor said, "Follow the money - that's all you need to know in journalism. Do that, and we can all go home now." Ten years later, when I watch the news, read articles and listen to political posturing, that advice comes back to me time and time again, and its wisdom is continually renewed. Someone is making too much money from oil. They are riding that gravy train until the gravy is all gone and we're left with a very very dry dinner. (Did I just seriously mix my metaphors?). They are hanging on until the very last second so they can squeeze every last dollar out of oil, while we still have it.

Here's what worries me though. It's not the shortage of gasoline. We all know that a diesel engine can run on just about anything, so we don't have to worry about that. We also know that we can harness the power of the wind, sun, and even the earth to power our homes and our various gizmos. Do you remember the advertisement from a few years ago about plastic? The one that showed an emergency operation and doctors hooking up plastic bags full of fluid to an endangered patient? Well as I watched the movie, I thought about this. Plastic is a petroleum by-product and we are just using it and throwing it away without thinking twice. I recycle mine, but I'm still guilty of using too much of it. What will happen when the oil runs out? Will we have to go back and dig all of that plastic out of the landfills? Will plastic become ridiculously expensive? Will it become a controlled substance only for use in hospitals or in the military? Can you imagine that? I haven't heard much said about this possibility, but it seems to me that if plastic is made from oil and we have an oil shortage, we will also have a plastic shortage.

I've digressed from my original topic of Who Killed the Electric Car, but watching the movie did lead me to thinking about all the other repercussions of our current environmentally irresponsible policies and corporate practices.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kicking it SVO Style

I've written before about recycling and my wish to consciously live a more environmentally conscientious lifestyle. I recently watched a documentary called Greasy Rider, about two people who travel across the country in a 1981 Mercedes 240D, with the engine converted to run straight vegetable oil. I knew that diesel engines were capable of this because of Willie Nelson (apparently he's been running his tour bus on it for years), but I didn't realise how easily it can be done.
I also didn't realise the difference between SVO conversions (Straight Vegetable Oil) and biodiesel). Straight Vegetable Oil is a waste product. You can actually fill up your car at McDonalds, for free. It is sometimes called Waste Vegetable Oil. So even if you choose not to eat at McDonalds, you can profit from people who do and help save the environment.

When I was in college in Savannah many years ago, my friend had a 240D Mercedes. It was a great car, one that had a lot of character. You could hear him coming streets away (no one said diesel engines are quiet), but it was a tank of a car. It was old, but quirky and luxurious. Apparently, these old mercs are the post popular cars to convert and will run up to 400,000 miles or so on one engine. I've been toying with the idea lately of buying one and experimenting with running it on vegetable oil. With gas prices at $4 a gallon, it's breaking the bank to fill up my tiny VW.

I don't commute any more (big sigh of relief), but the main chunk of my carbon footprint came from that, even though I drive an extremely gas efficient car. I enthralled with the idea. The conversion kits cost about $900 or so and the car would be a couple of thousand, but for that, I could significantly lower the emissions and use a product that usually ends up in landfills, for free. Most restaurants are happy to have someone pump out their grease because they have to pay to have it taken away. You have to filter it before you can put it in the tank, obviously, because unlike humans, cars don't like french fries, they just like the grease.
The conversion kits provide an additional tank with a heater. Because vegetable oil is thicker than commercial diesel, it has to be heated to reduce its viscosity. The cool thing is that if you don't have access to grease, you can fill up with regular diesel, or biodiesel.
I haven't looked into the availability of biodiesel in Nashville. I'm sure it must be available here, but it's not like there's a pump on every block.
It's just a fantasy idea right now, but it's defineitly something I'm looking into.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Money's Worth

Today I went to the cafeteria at the college where I am currently a student and I also work. This is always an interesting experience, but today, the simple act of getting my lunch upset two people working there.
It is always very difficult to filter through the fast food (at this particular cafeteria we have Pizza Hut, Quizno's and Chick-Fil-A) and the other junk (fried Chinese food bowls and "the grill" and the fried chicken usually offered at the home-cooking station) and manage to find something healthy.
The only options for salad dressings are either aspartame and chemical filled low-fat dressings, or packaged creamy dressings. There are no oils or vinegars provided. We have no soup - they took that away - I think it was too healthy. The yogurts are the predictable aspartame flavoured low-fat, the fruit is overpriced, and vegetables do not exist without ham-hocks and floating grease in them.
So it's quite difficult for a newly spawned healthy eater to find something to eat. I decided today, despite the lack of a whole-wheat tortilla option, to get a burrito. I thought I'd just have it with black beans, a little rice, and some fixins. Well the guy making the burrito spooned out what must have been almost an entire can of beans onto the tortilla. I told him to please take some of them off. His reaction was shocked. Then I asked for rice, "just a little bit," and he ladled it on thick yet again. I asked him, again, to take at least half of it away. He was now completely shocked and said, quizzically "but you won't get your money's worth!" I tried to explain to him that I appreciated his concern for my pocketbook, but I was just looking to have lunch, not to eat three meals at once. I did get my sized-down burrito, and it was the perfect amount of food, not the giant behemoths they usually make that I end up mostly throwing away. The guy making it also said, "well, if more people thought like you, we'd end up saving a lot of money." I think I could write a whole blog on that, about the economics of waste in the food industry and how we can all help change that by demanding realistic portions of real food, instead of monstrous piles of cheap garbage on an over-sized plate.
Then I decided to buy one of those Vitamin Waters. I know they aren't particularly healthy, but I needed something with some taste, and that was my best option there. I got to the checkout and the lady rang up my water at $2.99. I asked her if that was correct. She said "yes" and I asked her to cancel it because that was ridiculous for a bottle of flavoured water. She did it, but snorted and looked at me as if I were crazy.
So my dining experience this morning made me feel as if I am a creature from another planet, simply because I wanted something healthy to eat in a reasonable portion accompanied by a not-soda.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I Eat Meat

I just read in an article in our school newspaper that it takes 700 calories of animal feed to produce 100 calories worth of beef. I hate when I have to read things like that, you know, things that make me think.
It started me thinking about my meat consumption. I love meat. I love bacon, although I haven't indulged in it in a while, and I especially love a really good, juicy, bloody steak. You just can't beat it, but I've long felt guilty about eating meat. Most of my guilt stemmed from the animal cruelty aspect, and I do freely admit to being a "not tested on animals" cosmetic buying meat eating hypocrite. I have struggled with trying to rectify this hypocrisy and perhaps justify what I'm doing, but logically I can't.
Now the onslaught against we well meaning, but ultimately weak meat lovers has taken a new direction; now not only are we cruel, heartless flesh eaters, but we are also ruining the environment and causing famine in Africa. That's a lot to feel guilty about (It doesn't help that I read this article while eating a chicken burrito).
What's a meat lover to do? For several Lenten periods, I have successfully given up meat and one year, I gave it up for about nine months, but I always go back to eating it. I have a friend who was a voracious meat eater, but I believe he has given it up for about two years now, so perhaps it is possible.
This article also said that by giving up meat, people can reduce environmental footprint by more than if they stopped driving altogether.
I discovered this week that I really like tofu, and I've finally figured out how to cook it so it's edible, so perhaps I can start to reduce my meat consumption and start making more vegetarian choices. I don't think I can go cold turkey, (pun fully intended) but perhaps I can start to change in the right direction and practice another way of living a more conscientious life.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Random Thoughts of a Gas Guzzler

I've been joking around lately that if I don't recycle, then Al Gore comes to haunt me in my dreams. You know what they say, be careful what you say in jest, lest it come true.

I have been trying to get my mother to recycle. She doesn't like to do it because it's "messy," which really fits in with Al Gore's film title An Inconvenient Truth. I have to admit that until seeing that film, I thought of recycling as kind of a fad (and I consider myself occasionally to be an intelligent person) and had the impression that it didn't really help anything that much. But I suppose we grow older and wiser. My mother is now being very good about the recycling, as long as I promise to take it before it becomes overwhelming. (I used some very ugly tactics to bring her over to the green side, of which I should be ashamed, such as telling her she might as well vote Republican - I know, that was harsh, but I did it for the lush, green earth).

This morning I was driving to school and thinking about all sorts of environmental things. I don't remember my dreams last night, but I woke up thinking about Al Gore, so I think he was in them again. He likes to hang out there and chastise me. I thought about how difficult it is to be a good greenie. I am trying to eat organic foods and I'm trying to recycle as much as I can, but I still have to drive over an hour each day to get to work/school. I drive a small VW, so at least it's getting good milage, but according to Al Gore's website(, it still puts me above average on energy consumption. I thought, on my drive to school, about the fact that I try: I've recycled for the past three years, I drive a small car, and I try to eat locally and organic, and I quit smoking. What about people who don't even care at all? How would they fare on Al Gore's calculator? Most people don't think about their environmental footprint at all. I'm not trying to say that I'm better than them because I do, I'm really just thinking about our society and its priorities. What are people supposed to think when their president tells them it's patriotic to buy a Hummer? Then you have the car companies, who instead of concentrating on making small, economic cars are building enormous hybrid SUVs and then patting themselves on the back because these behemoths get the same milage as a large car. No one is preaching sacrifice. No one is requiring it. Shouldn't someone be setting an example?

It seems it's a long and lonely road for Al Gore.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Campaign for Real Food

To briefly explain the title of this blog, the phrase comes from the first episode of ST Deep Space Nine. Benjamin Sisko realises, through the guidance of the Wormhole Aliens (or Prophets, depending on your religious views), that he has been existing inside his head at the moment of his wife's death and has not been able to free himself of this restriction on his life. This blog and its title intends to act as a conscious step by me to live a life free from emotional restrictions tied irrationally to the past and move through the world with a determination to actively create positive situations and a healthy, enjoyable lifestyle on my own terms, while engaging in increased respect for others and for the environment.

For the past couple of weeks, following, perhaps predictably, a breakup, I've been making sweeping changes to my lifestyle, both in thought and in action. It occurred to me that I, a person who has read books like Fast Food Nation, Fatland, and You Are What You Eat, a person who knows the dangers, have for the past year, been treating my body less like a temple and more like a landfill. As I write, I am absorbing the absolute veracity of that statement. I had become lazy and relied on fast food increasingly more often. I ate at Arby's and Hardee's and McDonalds several times a week, when at one time in my life, I didn't eat at those places for years. They had become for me voids in the landscape where nothing existed except the physical exteriors of the buildings. I never considered the fare cooked inside, food filled with preservatives, chemicals, trace metals, and even plastics. And yet, during this past tumultuous year, I had allowed them to creep into my life and I found myself enjoying the Spicy Chicken Biscuit from Jack in the Box without a real consideration for what it actually is. Of course, over this past year, I've put on a disgusting amount of weight, a side-effect of this lazy, calorie-rich, nutrient-poor life.

These actions perpetuated a decline in my concern for my appearance and environment, which ultimately has eaten into my confidence the same way I ate my way through pounds of greasy fare. Last week I cut my hair, quit smoking, and decided to make some changes for good.

I pondered on my way to work today that if I continue to cut out fast food and unhealthy food from my diet and try to eat as naturally as possible, then what are the options available to me in approximately the same time as fast food on my way to work. Sadly, they are severely limited. I counted, amid the golden arches and red glowing cowboy hats, only one coffee/sandwich shop (Panera) and a grocery store that might provide healthy, natural, quick food. What is the state of the country (or perhaps only the region) if healthy, natural food is both difficult to find and prohibitively expensive? What has happened to us in the last century that we accept this state of affairs?

I do want to lose weight, but I'm not prepared either to eat chemically altered low-fat food or foods in which the fat has merely been replaced by sugar. If I'm going to do this, then I'm going to do it right. I'm giving up white flour and white grains, well at least severely limiting them as much as possible. At one time, this would have been a huge sacrifice for me, but lately I've found whole grains I like and a whole grain bread I really like too, and I've realised that they do fill you up much more substantially. Saving calories on things like that has allowed me to drink a couple of glasses of wine and enjoy some dark chocolate when I feel like it. I've also given up sodas and started drinking fizzy water and occasionally juice instead. I'm experimenting with different foods so I can experience a whole new way of eating and won't be bored. I've eaten bulgar wheat and wheat berries and brown rice in the past couple of weeks and thoroughly enjoyed them. I'm still eating butter and olive oil and eggs and almond butter and the occasional steak. I'm just trying to be judicious instead of allowing myself to eat any old crap that's quick, cheap, and easy, because ultimately if that's how you eat, that's how you end up feeling. I agree with the adage, "you are what you eat."