Saturday, March 29, 2014

eco-lent: week 4, just say "no" to new toys!

Lately, my seven-year-old is obsessed with a computer game (also available on other devices) called Minecraft. He bought the iPad version with some of his birthday money. In this game, you walk around and build stuff, as far as I can tell. You also get attacked by zombies and creepers at night. You can blow stuff up with TNT, including animals, because that's how you eat them. This is what I know about this game; don't press me on details. (Said 7yo is slightly disturbed about blowing up animals since he's a vegetarian, but decided it's OK because that's the only food source in the game. I'm just glad he feels disturbed about blowing up animals. But I digress.)

The other day he came home from a play date with a couple LEGO magazines, which is great. He loves LEGOs, too, and I generally think highly of LEGOs. They're not cheap, but they last forever because they're a quality product, and they encourage creativity. (Plus, did anyone see the recent Lego Movie??? So great! Or should I say "awesome"?!) They may be made out of plastic, but it's not like he's eating them, so I think it's OK.

In the LEGO magazines were pictures of--get this--Minecraft LEGO sets. What could be better than combining two of his favorite things?! So he was very excited and wanted to visit the website, at which point I realized that these tiny sets of LEGOs were $34.99 and no way was I going to buy them--that's more expensive than the computer game. Also, it got me thinking about the ridiculousness of the fact that Minecraft is basically LEGOs on the computer, and then they're turning around and making LEGOs out of the LEGO computer game, and charging more for them because they have little pixelated faces on them.

Therefore, I suggested that he basically already had LEGO Minecraft, because he had square pieces with which he could build whatever he wanted without even having to use a screen.

WOAH! 7yo mind *blown*.

So today, he spent his morning making his own Minecraft LEGO people and animals, and proceeded to build a house for them and play with them for much of the rest of the day (in between accosting innocent visitors with vivid descriptions of each character and what they do). From left: sheep, cow, villager, "Steve," zombie, creeper and ghast.

I realized this is exactly what I'm supposed to be working on this week with my eco-lent theme of buying less. He showed me how much more fun it is and how much creativity is involved when we're willing to buy less, use what we have, and make the things our hearts really desire. He took so much pleasure in creating these and playing with them and telling people about them. He might have been excited if he'd gotten the official set, but it seems like he's more personally connected to these and proud of them because of the effort and creativity he put in. What a great example! (He was also really excited that I was putting a picture on my blog, so make sure to tell him you liked them, next time you see him.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

eco-lent: week 4

This week's eco-challenge from The Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" suggests buying less.

At the moment, we're really trying to stick to our budget and buy only the essentials for economic reasons, so I feel like I'm pretty good at this one, but there's always room for improvement. I'll give a few ways that my family attempts to buy less, and then list a few areas I could work on.

Tips for buying less:

  • Last weekend we had a garage sale! Believe it or not, there are some parts of the country where this is not normal. But it's a great way to get rid of unwanted stuff, or things you haven't used in a while and that someone else might use, and you make a bit of cash while you're at it. It felt really cathartic to just let go of possessions, to release them and not hoard them.
  • Buy used. This way another item doesn't have to be made and thrown in the landfill. I like to go to thrift stores, and of course you can buy used things online.
  • Acquire used. My friend Lotus is a great coordinator for clothing exchanging! She gets some, gives some, facilitates trades between similar-sized friends, and shares with me. I also have friends with whom I pass down clothes from my kids, or receive their hand-me-downs. So far my kids love this arrangement, because every once in a while we get a big garbage bag full of "new" clothes. They also enjoy packing things away for their younger friends and seeing them wear favorite items.
  • Freecycle and other e-groups. Our Friends meeting has a very active e-group, and in addition to prayer requests and announcements, people often send out emails listing "Needed" or "Available" items or opportunities. When we lived in a different town there was an active Freecycle e-group and we got some great, free stuff (furniture, kids clothes) in a place where we weren't as connected in to the community.
  • Buy quality. This is my husband's big thing--when you're going to buy something, buy an item with excellent quality so it will last, rather than buying something cheap that will wear out and have to be replaced. This option is more expensive up front, but less expensive in the long run.
  • Buy local foods and other items. At least when we do this, there's generally less packaging and less shipping. We buy local honey from a friend, we grow our own eggs, we try to buy foods that are produced in our area whenever we can...although we're not exceptionally good at this.
Areas that could use a little work:
  • Be satisfied with what you have. This is the difficult one, right? There's always something newer, faster, trendier, cuter...but can we be satisfied with our phones, clothes, home decor, cars, etc. for just an extra year? How about 2, or 10? I'm still working on this one in some areas. It requires letting go of one's ego enough to not care if you have the shiny new thing first, or if you look cool, or if your home/car/wardrobe keeps up with the trends. In my own life, this requires a process of constant internal renewal.
  • Coffee, quinoa, sugar and other extras that have to be shipped from a distance and are cash crops that require destruction of natural habitats. This makes my head hurt just to think about it--a preemptive caffeine headache.
  • Truly buying bulk food and local food, rather than the cheater way at Costco or Winco. In our area there's a company called Azure Standard, and they sell bulk items and try to find as much as they can locally and organic. This cuts down on packaging and shipping at all levels of the supply chain, and also requires me to make more from scratch rather than getting conveniently pre-packaged food that isn't as healthy (for my family or the planet). Azure is generally cheaper, too.
  • Electronics. We're not the kind to have to go buy every new gadget that comes out, but we do have our fair share (or, really, on a worldwide scale, way more than our fair share). There's environmental impact from all the plastics and metals, etc. that go into making the things, as well as the factories and the shipping. Then there's the increased international conflict for access to the raw materials, as well as the ill health and slavery-like situations of factory workers, not to mention how many electronic items end up in landfills.
Goals for the week:
  • Make an order for Azure Standard.
  • Pay even more attention to where foods come from. Try to buy locally produced foods, or do without.
  • Ponder my coffee habit. I'm not ready to give this one up yet...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

eco-lent: week 3, convenience

This week's eco-challenge was driving less. As I shared in my post at the beginning of this lenten week, this is one I feel like I've worked on quite a bit, and I do alright by American standards. We're now leasing a Nissan Leaf (fully electric car), and I try to use my bike as transportation a good deal of the time. I challenged myself to get back into the habit of using my bike more often, because now that we have an electric car, I'm a bit more lazy about biking than I was when spewing fossil fuels from an SUV was the other option.

First, I'll give you an update on how my week went in terms of my eco-challenge for myself, and then I'll share about the spiritual implications I've been mulling over as a result.

Eco-challenge results: 
I found myself using several of my go-to excuses for not biking this week: I had a minor cold, it was really cold one morning and there was frost on the ground, I took dinner to a friend who just had a baby and it would have been difficult to carry in the trailer and the food would have gotten cold. I also went places after dark, when it would be unsafe for my seven-year-old to bike.

I managed to ride my bike two out of the last six days. The good news is that when I drove, I was almost always "carpooling" with all four members of my family, and it was generally at times when we had to come home in the dark, although I did drive my kids to school/babysitter and myself to work one of those days because of frost and having a slight cold. I did end up driving each of those six days, though several of them I didn't go anywhere in the car until after dark (or until the trip for which we'd be out after dark).

Spiritual implications:
What I found myself thinking about most this week was what level of comfort and convenience I'm willing to give up. I'm willing to put up with some difficulty of getting places and some discomfort in terms of weather in my face, but am I willing to subject my kids to this discomfort? Am I willing to let go of more commitments so that I'll have time to bike places more often? Am I willing to change or rearrange my schedule so that we won't be out after dark? Where is my line between acceptable sacrifice and over-the-top legalism?

This week I also started cooking bacon for my younger son. (This is slightly off-topic but is related thematically.) He's a self-described carnivore (he's 3 and doesn't really understand the concept of an omnivore), and he LOVES meat. I'm a vegetarian and since, in this phase of life, I'm doing most of the grocery shopping, we generally don't have meat in the house. My husband bought some bacon last week because he couldn't take it anymore. My youngest now demands bacon for breakfast, and I gave in, buying bacon at Costco. My husband couldn't believe I bought it there--why wouldn't I find some that's at least local OR organic OR something healthy and environmentally friendly, but at any rate, this feels like a bit of a compromise on my part. Maybe my son is of a body type where he needs meat more than I do. He's his own person and can make his own choices. But shouldn't I be guiding him toward good decisions? I showed my older son part of a factory farm and slaughterhouse video a while back and it cemented his decision to be a vegetarian, but I can't show that to my 3-year-old yet. I want to give good gifts to my kids, and it's so much easier to give them what they want, especially when everyone around me seems to say it's normal and good and right.

Driving cars and having schedules that take us out of our homes at all hours of the day and night are normal activities in this culture, in my social circles. Flying once in a while, buying food shipped in from other countries, purchasing electronics made in other countries and mined who-knows-where at who-knows-what environmental and human cost--these things are "normal." It's counter-cultural to question whether these things are, in fact, good gifts to give to my children.

But looked at from another angle, what if I were suddenly transported to 100 years from now? If I could see the effects of our collective actions on the polar icecaps, rising sea levels, greenhouse gas emissions creating warmer temperatures and poorer air quality, and soil and water contamination from chemicals, what good gifts would I want myself and our generation to have given to our children and grandchildren? If we see suffering right in front of us, we're willing to sacrifice something in order for that suffering to end. But if we imagine ourselves removed from that suffering, if we can put it out of sight so we can conveniently place it out of mind, it becomes so difficult for us--at least for me--to be willing to sacrifice my convenience for the sake of an unknown person's unseen suffering.

I'm reminded of the issue of un-personed aerial vehicles (drones). We can, perhaps, imagine ourselves pushing the button for a drone to bomb a village where we're told there are terrorists, but most of us can't imagine pulling the trigger to shoot each of those villagers, or even closer, wringing their necks with our own hands. The environmental situation seems to me like it is similar. We can go along merrily in our disembodied way, pronouncing death and destruction on the environment (and therefore our own descendants, and others who live in this world today), but if we could see the faces of those hurt by our actions, if we could look in their eyes, if we could make all the connections between our polluting actions that support our convenient way of life and their asthma or their cancer, would we act the same way? Or would we be willing to change our behaviors in order to ensure that their suffering did not have to continue?

Was it convenient or affordable for Friends and others to choose to not buy products made by slaves?

Are we willing to make that kind of personal sacrifice for our descendants, those with whom we share the planet, ourselves?

Are we willing to let Christ's Light shine in our dark places, those conveniences to which we cling? Are we willing to let that be a convicting challenge and an encouragement rather than a condemnation, to turn and change our ways? Or will we hide in our ignorance and pretend we can't see the consequences of our actions?

Monday, March 24, 2014

150 meaningful connections

Maybe some of you saw this as it made the rounds on Facebook and Upworthy last week. This is something that has been on my mind for a number of years regarding the optimal size of a congregation or meeting. It always makes me feel good about the fact that no one ever accused Friends meetings of being mega-churches!

At the same time, in my own yearly meeting, I've noticed that we struggle with what to do when we get to be around 150-200 members/attendees strong. Do we divide into two groups and build another meetinghouse? Do we have more than one service in the same building with the same pastors? Do we just try to adjust our organizational structure to administrate a larger group? Here is a website that explains the various congregation sizes and styles from a book by Roy M. Oswald that I read awhile back, the name of which I can't remember or find.

At any rate, the point is that at the point where there are more than 150 people who are actively involved, it becomes difficult to know everyone, and the feel of the congregation changes. So what do you do then? People are attracted to the congregation because of its "personality," the culture of that group when it's together. They're attracted to the sense of community and the strong connections people seem to share. But once it gets big, those things are lost.

In our current cultural context, we seem to think that more is always better. In a congregation, why do we want "more"? I suppose it's so that more people can be reached with the message we're sharing, so that more people don't have to experience the loneliness this video addresses, so that more can be drawn into truly life-giving community.

What scares us so much about dividing into smaller groups when we get too large, then?

Well, one thing is financial. 150 people can barely support a pastor and a meetinghouse in today's economy with the expense of benefits and so forth. It sounds nice to grow bigger so we can have more incomes to support our pastoral team. But once we hit 150 people, we need a different kind of pastor and a different form of ministry. So it's kind of a catch 22.

My own leaning is toward keeping our meetings at or around 150, and splitting in two when there are too many people coming. Perhaps we share a building for a while and meet at different times and hire different ministers. Perhaps we find a new location closer to a group from the existing congregation.

Suffice it to say that have a meeting that is TOO big is a nice problem to have! At the same time, it's so easy to give into the false sense of pride and energy that comes from having hundreds of "friends" but not really knowing anyone.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

eco-lent: week 3

3-year-old ready for the tag-along bike!
This week's eco-challenge from the Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" suggests driving less. I must admit that since leasing a Leaf a few weeks ago, I have chosen to drive more often than I did previously, but I feel like this particular eco-challenge is an area I've been working on more than the ones from the first two weeks (plastic and home chemicals). But, there is always room for improvement!

Today I'm going to give you some lists that share the ups and downs of biking as transportation. (If you want to learn more about my biking journey and gear, check out these posts, and this one, too, and this one from way back in 2006.)

First, some of the most difficult situations I've encountered that necessitate driving:

  • Having a baby. When my kids were born, I couldn't bike them yet because they don't make rear-facing carseats for bike trailers, to my knowledge! I could walk, but that took forever.
  • Snow or otherwise frozen matter on the ground. Unless you have studded bike tires, which do exist.
  • Biking in the dark with kids. Even with good reflective gear and lights, I don't feel comfortable with my 7-year-old biking at night. Too many things could go wrong, from a car not seeing him to him not seeing a bump or other obstacle.
  • Going out of town. We live in a small town, and the roads that leave town are sketchy for bikes. I might try it alone, but I definitely wouldn't want to chance it with kiddos.
Then there are the excuses I make, which aren't really good enough, but often prevail:
  • Not enough time.
  • Sort of extreme weather (too wet, too hot, too windy).
  • Whiney kids.
  • Too many hills--will get all sweaty by the time I reach my destination.
  • Too much to carry.
  • Slightly sick.
Things I've done to make biking doable most days:
  • Just do it! I usually feel really good once I'm out there.
  • Good rain pants and coat, gloves, boots, fenders for the bike. These are a necessity in western Oregon!
  • Rain gear for kids, too.
  • A nice headlight, and adequate tail light that can switch easily from the bike to the trailer, depending on cargo.
  • Practice all the time to build up muscles and courage, and it becomes "normal" for kids.
  • Give kids a snack in the trailer, and/or bring snacks along for the destination. (This moves mountains!)
  • Go grocery shopping often so I only need a few things each time I go.
What I like about biking:
  • Being outside! Fresh air, noticing the seasons more, enjoying the scents of various flora as I pass.
  • Exercise. When I don't have time for a dedicated workout session, biking from place to place around town doesn't take much longer than driving but it allows me to get some exercise.
  • Chatting with my kids. When it's nice and the trailer is open, and once they're big enough to ride their own or the tag-along bike, we have some great conversations while biking. (My eldest also told me a few times he didn't want me to talk anymore because he wanted to "just enjoy nature." I'm not sure whether it's good he just wanted some space and knew how to tell me, or if he was basically saying, "Be quiet, Mom!") We've had some great discussions about why we bike, as well as just what's going on in our lives.
  • Creating space. If I know I have to bike, I generally don't pack my schedule so incredibly full. I know I'll need time to get from place to place, and I really think about whether it's worth it to go somewhere. 
This week, I'm going to try to get back into the habit of biking instead of depending on our car. I'm going to choose biking or walking even when it's not so convenient, unless it's overly dangerous. I'll try to combine any necessary trips out of town. I'll also keep working on the last two weeks' eco-challenges: reducing plastic use and using household cleaners that are better for the environment.

Who's with me? Who will bike or walk at least once more than usual this week?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

eco-lent: week 2, on guilt vs. conviction

As I've been moving through Lent and focusing on these eco-challenges from the Northwest Earth Institute, in the back of my mind I sometimes hear little warning bells going off: Will people feel judged by my actions? Will people think I'm judging them? Am I being too legalistic about these minute details of lifestyle? Am I being too pretentious, or too granola-y, paranoid about the plastic my kids are eating off? Also, what about the fact that a lot of these lifestyle and consumer changes require a certain level of disposable income (pardon the pun)? What about those who can't afford to buy fancy biodegradable soap that still works (or free time to make their own), or replace everything plastic with glass or metal? Is it missing the point of caring for the planet if only those well off enough to afford luxuries can afford the luxury of health?

At the same time, I'm feeling really grounded and hopeful about my choice to take action, however small the action might be.

This week I didn't have a lot of time to blog, but I have been mulling over the question of how to offer prophetic criticism of the way things are without coming across as judgmental and condemning. Perhaps prophets have to be willing to sound judgmental and condemning. I'm going to write a blog post at some point soon (possibly after Lent, but we'll see...) reflecting on Walter Brueggemann's Prophetic Imagination, so that's enough on that theme here.

I've been thinking a lot about the distinction between guilt and conviction. I think it has to do with an internal attitude: the way we choose to respond to a given situation. Therefore, I can choose to feel guilty and defensive when I realize I'm living in a way that is destructive toward the planet (and therefore, indirectly, myself), or I can choose to react in a way that senses the truth of what is being said, internalizes it and decides to change. I can feel convicted, and repent (which means "turn around"). Also, I wrote most of this post before going to worship on Sunday, but my father-in-law's message fit well with this theme. He talked about the parables of the lost coin, sheep and son, and pointed out that in each circumstance, there isn't condemnation or finger-pointing regarding the poor choices of the lost item--instead, there is a huge celebration! When we turn around and make a better choice, God celebrates rather than judging or shaming.

I can't control the way others will respond to what I'm saying regarding ecological degradation. I can try to say it in the nicest way possible, which may be helpful for some. I can choose to show where I'm failing as well as where I'm succeeding, and in my last post I tried to make it very obvious that I'm not really doing a great job at this ecological thing, either.

But then, I wonder about being "nice." Is this the best way to get across a real and timely concern? I think of John Woolman, who I'm sure didn't come across as particularly "nice." He was fairly quiet about what he believed, but he'd just leave the house when he found out someone owned a slave, or ask to sleep in the slaves' quarters with them. This wasn't exactly polite. He wasn't playing a political game of attempting to ingratiate himself toward people so that he'd have a voice; he simply spoke with the voice he had. But perhaps times have changed; perhaps this isn't the way any longer.

At any rate, in order to not let myself get put on a pedestal (in case any of you were tempted...), I'll share with you about my failed attempt--two nights in a row--to eat dinner without needing canned food.

It all started one afternoon last week when I realized we didn't have any refried beans in the house and I wanted to make something that required them. Well, I didn't want to soak them and then cook them, because that was going to take too long. I looked up recipes online and found out you can make them in a rice cooker, and I saw time estimates of 1-3 hours.

To make a long story short, it took over 7 hours in the rice cooker and I kept having to add water. Then when I went to heat them again on the stove the next day, I burnt them.

Though burnt, they wouldn't get very soft, so I tried a potato masher. That didn't work, so I put them in the blender with some onions and garlic, but it wouldn't mask the taste of burnt beans. So...long story short...I went to the grocery store and got some more canned refried beans for my family, and I ate burnt beans for dinner with tons of other yummy stuff on top (cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, guacamole, corn and chips)!

Here are some partial success stories from the week:

  • Experimenting with using vinegar as a cleaning product in ways I hadn't before, such as toilet bowl cleaner, and, unfortunately, cleaning up pee off the floor. (My youngest is potty training...this happened way too often this week!) I haven't gotten to cleaning out partially clogged drains yet. This will have to wait for next week, alas.
  • Going to Costco and not buying anything in a can, due to the unhealthy level of chemical leaching that happens from the plastic epoxy coating on the inside of food cans. It's impossible to go there and not buy anything packaged in plastic, but at least I can remove it from the plastic and put it in a different container. I'm out of glass containers, though, so I had to compromise on this one for now.
  • I'm not sure if this counts as a success story, but our dishwasher broke this week, so we've been hand washing everything. Our hand dishwashing soap is from Seventh Generation and works well.
  • My son, when I gave him a plastic spoon because he prefers them when eating oatmeal so the metal doesn't burn his mouth, said, "Mom, I thought we weren't using these anymore!" I guess the message is getting through to someone!

Friday, March 14, 2014

eco-lent: week 2, day 2

This week's eco-challenge in Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" is to get rid of toxic chemicals in household cleaners and other supplies.

It's a little difficult to know where to begin on this one, so I'll start by sharing what I'm already doing that I think is decent, and then I'll make a list of things I need to work on.

What I'm already doing:

  • Cloth diapers that I wash in a high-efficiency washing machine with white distilled vinegar (instead of bleach) and an eco-friendly diaper detergent called bum genius cloth diaper detergent. It has no phosphates, dyes, fragrances or optical brighteners, and it's endorsed by the Design for the Environment, which hopefully means something meaningful, although it's sponsored by the EPA. (This has worked great, although when I got it 3 years ago, I got a big box with 12 smaller boxes in it, each of which is for 66 loads, and I'm on my last one with my son almost out of diapers. I can't find anywhere that they sell it this way now--this link is for a 71-load pouch--but you might be able to find it with a bit deeper search.)
  • White distilled vinegar as a cleaning product around the house. Here's a helpful website about how to use it, and what to mix with it for stuff like lime buildup, drains, coffee makers, tea kettles, counters, soap buildup, etc.
  • Using an ecologically decent laundry detergent: Ecos Laundry Detergent, which is also stamped with Design for the Environment approval.
  • From the list in the graphic, above, many of those don't apply to me as I generally don't wear makeup or nail polish, we have a shower door instead of shower curtain, we don't have a stain resistant carpet or furniture or TV set, etc.
What I'm doing that I know is not so good:
  • We have some non-stick pans and they're sooooo convenient!!! I know Teflon is horrible but I can't bring myself to get rid of our non-stick pots and pans yet. 
  • I really don't pay attention to the kind of plastic my kids' toys are made of. When they were babies I made sure to get non-BPA toys, but now that they don't put everything in their mouth I figure it's not a big deal. It may not be a big deal in terms of our health, but in the sense that plastic then goes into a landfill (eventually) and becomes part of the ecosystem...that's not so good.
  • Dishwasher detergent: Cascade (or, currently, the Costco knock-off version). This receives an "F" grade on the Environmental Working Group's rating scale of such products. Powders and "natural" detergents really don't seem to do the job. Here's a list of the top 10 and worst 10 of different kinds of cleaners, so I may look for one of these at the store next time.
  • Shampoo & conditioner: Bed Head. This stuff does wonders for my hair, but what is it doing to the planet? It has all sorts of unpronounceable ingredients, some of which I believe are fossil-fuel derived. According to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep site, it receives a score of 6/10 for the shampoo, 5/10 for the conditioner (10 being the worst) as far as how hazardous it is compared to other products, meaning it's just barely in the "moderate hazard" category, almost to the "high hazard" category.
  • Liquid Plumr: This stuff is so bad! I know it, and yet--how else does one get one's long hair out of a clogged drain? All the products by this brand received an "F" grade on the Environmental Working Group's rating scale for household cleaners. Now that I see the tip about baking soda and hot vinegar on the website I listed above, though, I'm going to try that.
What I'm going to try:
  • Baking soda and hot vinegar drain de-clogger.
  • Buying a better dishwasher detergent from the Environmental Working Group's list, here.
  • Trying some more ecologically sensitive shampoo and conditioner. The EWG has a mobile app called Skin Deep that lets you check stuff while you're in the store, so I'm going to try that next time I need these.
  • Look into stainless steel water filtration systems; get rid of my Brita pitcher. At the very least, use a filter system that hooks to the faucet so the water doesn't sit in plastic for hours before being ingested.
  • As I already said in a previous post, I'm going to get together with friends to try making hand/body soap in a couple weeks!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

eco-lent: week 2

Continuing in my eco-lent practice, this week's eco-challenge from the Northwest Earth Institute's workbook, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" is to clean up my home by removing harmful cleaning chemicals.

I have to admit that this is another one of those things where I know that soaps and other cleaning agents are harmful, but I haven't done a whole lot to ensure that I'm not putting gross stuff down the drain. As I've been reading through the articles in this NWEI workbook, I've been re-convicted about the fact that everything we put down the drain ends up in our waterways or has to be cleaned out. Apparently, the drugs acetaminophen and codeine can be found in all major US waterways. We don't flush these down the toilet in pill-form, perhaps, but they pass through us and stay in our water, affecting, well, everything that lives in or drinks water, so...pretty much everything.

As I've been doing this eco-challenge process, I've been struck again and again by the interconnectedness of everything within our planet. We like to think of ourselves as solidly "self," separate from everything around us. We also like to think of other entities and objects as separate from one another--so we think of a plastic container with food in it as two separate objects with a definite line between each. It's not so simple, however, because everything is reacting to and interacting with everything around it. I'm not exactly the same as I was when I started this blog post, because chemical reactions within my body have changed food into energy and waste, I've used some energy to think and type, I've lost hairs and skin cells, I've brought in oxygen and released carbon dioxide along with any particles that might be in the air, and so forth. There's not a completely distinct set of molecules that is "me," because they are always changing, re-forming, interacting with the world around them. This is the same with the whole planet's ecosystem.

It seems to me that this categorizing of "self" vs. "other," of one object separate from another, though it has its uses, is one of the main reasons we have a hard time understanding one another as human beings. We like to be able to categorize; we want everything to be distinct and clearly definable as one thing or another. "Good" or "bad," "us" or "them," defining disciplines and jobs so as to create as much specialization as possible--but then there's no crossover. We don't learn from one another. These are artificial distinctions that end up making us blind to the network of interrelated cause and effect going on all around us, including us.

What if we saw ourselves as part of this amazing, intricate whole? What if we realized that our personal choices impact the entire planet? What if we recognized that the destruction we cause to forests, air and waterways destroys us as well?

As I said in my post yesterday, I'd already begun thinking about the harmful effects of soap in the water, from parabens and phthalates to plastic micro-beads, and so I've got a date on the calendar to make soap with some friends at the end of the month! I'm sure I'll post pictures. But this is only one of the soaps and other cleaning products in our home.

A goal for the week: educate myself about the harmful additives in soaps and cleaners around my house, and research alternatives.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 7, what i've learned this week & why it all matters

I've learned a lot this week as I've journeyed into my very own eco-lent, exploring Northwest Earth Institute's "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" eco-challenge to be more intentional about not using plastics with BPA. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • BPA (bisphenol A) is bad for you! It's bad because it's an endocrine blocker which exhibits estrogenic activity, mimicking an estrogen cell and then sometimes causing mutations that lead to a variety of illnesses related to the reproductive systems.
  • Virtually all plastics have additives that exhibit estrogenic activity, but we should especially avoid plastics #3, #6 and #7.
  • Worst for fetuses and infants.
  • Worse when plastic gets "stressed" (sunlight, hot water, dishwasher, scratches).
  • Some of my friends already know this stuff and put it into practice. It's a little bit humbling to know I'm late to the party, but also encouraging to know I'm not the only crazy person who cares about this stuff.
  • Some of my friends are really interested in this but haven't taken the time to learn more about it, which is where I was a week ago.
  • There are alternatives to plastic water filter systems, water bottles, food storage containers, etc., such as these (thanks Meghan & Leah!):
  • I have so much to learn! I hadn't even thought about plastic micro-beads in soaps, which then go into the waterways. Also, parabens (used in soaps and cosmetics as a preservative) and phthalates (used for fragrance) are other kinds of endocrine blockers, although I don't think they're made form fossil fuels like plastic is--phthalates are. Meghan, Leah and I got into a Facebook conversation in the comments of one of Leah's posts last night and decided we're going to try to make our own soap sometime soon.
  • I haven't even really touched on plastic as a justice issue...made from fossil fuels, so we have to show our power in the Middle East so the convenience of plastic can be ours...the way plastic ends up in landfills nearby the poorest communities...the people who work to recycle all our thrown away plastic in foreign countries under terrible working conditions...the effects of plastics on fish and other wildlife as the chemicals leach into the water, not to mention pollution from the factories that make plastics...the list goes on. All I've really had time to do is to think about plastic as a personal health issue.
Overall, I'm really grateful for community that is building as I bring these things up in conversation (this conversation, here, online, and regular ol' face to face conversations, too). It seems like all these problems of how to treat the world are so huge and daunting, but then, we CAN take one small step today. We can wait for tomorrow for more ideas for the next step. That's what faithfulness looks like, and that's what we can do.

As a Quaker, I have this kind of thing in my history: ordinary people who made small choices, day after day, to live more justly, and eventually the collective change of their lives, changed the world. We can do that again, you and I!

Tonight as I was driving for just a couple minutes, a show happened to be on OPB where the speakers were talking about how to get people on board to the environmental movement. (I have no idea what this show was or who was talking, so forgive me. On the website they list that hour as "OPB Presents," where they have different programs on each week, and I only listened for a couple minutes so I didn't hear what the program was or who these people were.) They were talking about how it's difficult to get people to rally around the environmental cause because we don't have any images of it that capture our imaginations, like we did with the civil rights movement. Also, they said, we don't have any perceived enemies, because we just see ourselves as the enemy. Every time we get in the car to go visit our grandma, or get on an airplane, or throw away something after using it once, we feel ourselves to be the enemy, and we don't know what to do with that, so we ignore it.

This radio person suggested that we need to figure out who the villains are in this ecological crisis so that we can pin all our frustration on them and have a focal point for being angry at someone externally so we're willing to change.

Now, this might be good politics or a good social activism strategy, but to me this seems like the exact opposite of the way I interpret the data.

As I see it, if I am the enemy, that is incredibly good news, because I do have control over changing my own behavior.

If we all demonize others or "the system," we feel trapped and paralyzed, unable to live in a different way--at least, I know I do. But if I am personally responsible for this injustice, I can take steps toward reconciliation. I can change the course of my own history, and in so doing, provide hope to others around me that we don't have to give in to the lie that we're only one person, so what can we do?

I leave you with Margaret Mead's famous quote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 6, what does plastic have to do with lent?

I can't say that I'm a major expert on what Lent means, because coming from a Quaker tradition, I was an adult before I ever heard the term. But, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia (just don't tell my students I'm citing it as a source):
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer [for Easter] through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
My lenten practice is to spend time each day of Lent focusing on a weekly eco-challenge from the Northwest Earth Institute's book, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet."As far back as I can remember, I've felt a deep sense that the God in whom I put my faith and trust is a God of love--in fact IS love, embodies love, through the person of Jesus and through us. Love isn't just a nice feeling, but it's an intentional act of choosing to live in right relationship with those around us. I've had a hard time, however, going from this macro-level down to the particulars. What does it mean to put this kind of just-love into action? When I can see so many areas of injustice in the world, how do I keep myself from feeling paralyzed? How do I gather the courage to take a tiny step in the direction of a more just world?

In the past few years my leadings have centered around caring for the Earth. This is the place that is put in our care. If we take the creation story in Genesis seriously, God created everything and called it good. God delighted in each and every new aspect of creation, and encouraged it all to flourish, even before human beings came on the scene. God told the fish, birds and even the sea monsters to "be fruitful and multiply" on the fifth day, while human beings were created on the sixth day of the story. (I think this was pointed out to me in Ellen Davis' Scripture, Culture & Agriculture.) It seems to me that we as people are often getting stuck on ourselves, wanting ourselves and our people to be special in a way that others are not. While this is true, it's not completely true: each of my kids is special to me in a different way, but not one more than the other. In Amos 9:7, God reminds the Israelites that they are special, but not exclusively so:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
Yes, God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and chose them for the special task of bringing forth the Messiah into the world, but other than that, they're not really any more special than God's other children.

I wonder if this is true for us and the rest of creation. Yes, God cares about us, and we are chosen for the particular task of caring for the rest of this planet. But we aren't any more special to God than everything else.

How does that feel? To me that stings a little. I want to be special. I want human beings to have a special place in God's heart, to be the exclusive species that truly matters to God--just like the people of Israel wanted to be God's special tribe and nation. And we ARE special to God, as the caretakers of God's beloved creation.

The problem is, we're not doing a very good job. We think we're so special that we can use the entire creation for our own benefit and comfort.

So for me, letting go of this need to be special, of this sense of entitlement to use the produce of the Earth for my own needs first, paying attention to the ways my actions are impacting the Earth and everything in it--these are particularly lenten reflections and actions. I'm praying to God about how I can live as a more faithful follower: how I can love God and my neighbor as myself more purely. I hear that I need to care for the Earth. I recognize my own "sin" in this situation: my misuse of the world's resources, my attitude of entitlement that expects to have everything I want, when I want it. I repent of these actions and attitudes, and I live out self-denial by giving up some of my comforts.

Self-denial is one of the most difficult ones, for me. For one thing, it smacks of holier-than-thou martyr-like ideology, where I feel more pious than everyone else who isn't doing this holy act of self-denial. For another thing, women in particular have been encouraged in Western culture to be the ones who deny themselves constantly, for the sake of their family and community. I don't want to fall into the trap of a self-denying woman who doesn't stand up for herself and her own legitimate needs.

At the same time, self-denial is difficult because of our culture that expects everything, more, better, faster, stronger, always MORE. I find myself falling into this trap. I want everything in my life to be more convenient, more efficient, even a better use of energy and resources. And I want it NOW! I don't want to have to practice self-discipline or delayed gratification. I so often live into my culture's tyranny of the "now," where waiting is simply unacceptable, and going without something that is desired is some form of cruel and unusual punishment.

So in this lenten journey so far this week, I've realized how addicted I am to plastic, to the convenience of something that is cheap, easy to use, doesn't break, and gets thrown away or recycled so I can get the next "now" thing. I'm addicted to the disposable culture, and my home shows it.

It's painful to recognize my complicity in this system that creates injustice--this world where plastics and people get thrown away with little regard, where we wage wars over the resources to make plastic, where the livelihoods of people the world over are based on an imaginary economic system of stocks that demand ever more and larger markets, and that grind people to death like so many plastic parts.

Not only is this a systemic issue, but this is an issue that affects my very own body and health, along with the health of my family. My laziness about not looking critically at the food and food packaging system means that my kids have been eating off dishes that are leaching harmful chemicals into their bodies their whole lives. We have laws against parents smoking in their homes. What about parents who microwave plastic dishes, or who make their kids hot drinks in plastic cups? I would not stand idly by and let my kids eat lead paint. How is this any different?

How much of my own ease and comfort, my own ability to have everything I want and to have it NOW, am I willing to give up for the sake of the health of this planet, put under my care? How much am I willing to give up for the sake of my children and their children, for my own health?

On the flip side, where's the line between penitential lenten self-sacrifice, and over-the-top paranoid anxiety that leaches life out of people just as surely as stressed plastics?

It's a work in progress, friends, but I'm grateful to have you along for the journey.

Monday, March 10, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, days 4-5, purging

Purging plastics
Continuing my lenten practice this season, I'm still working on the BPA-free eco-challenge from Northwest Earth Institute's book, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." This is where it gets particularly Lent-related because I worked on purging my kitchen of as many plastics as possible. The Environmental Working Group lists BPA as one of the "dirty dozen" of top endocrine disruptors (see below for definition), up there with lead, mercury and arsenic.

I actually didn't find any plastics in my kitchen the contained BPA, but the more I started looking into the effects of plastics on our bodies, the more I realized that it's not just BPA that's the problem. BPA is the most hazardous of the materials, but it's not the only one that can be harmful. A study in the July 2011 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, "Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem that Can be Solved" (Vol. 119, No. 7, pp. 989-996) tested a wide variety of plastics (over 500 types) and concluded (as the title states) that most of them contain estrogenic chemicals that leach out when used normally. A major problem is that plastics manufacturers don't have to list all the additives in their products, presumably due to keeping their trade secrets safe. Many of these additives have "estrogenic activity" and are endocrine disruptors:
Chemicals that mimic or antagonize the actions of naturally occurring estrogens are defined as having estrogenic activity (EA), which is the most common form of endocrine disruptor activity. (989)
This is problematic because:
In mammals, chemicals having EA can produce many health-related problems, such as early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviors, and increased rates of some breast, ovarian, testicular and prostate cancers. (989)
Fetuses and young children are most susceptible, but the EA can affect adults as well. These EA chemicals leach out most when the plastic is "stressed," which means fairly normal activities like if it's left in the sun, microwaved, exposed to boiling water or put in the dishwasher. The older the plastic is, the more likely it is to leach because it's been more exposed to those stressors.

Based on that data, I started to get rid of as much plastic in my kitchen as possible, regardless of whether it is BPA-free.

My general practice has been to reuse plastic containers and store things in them that I buy in bulk or that come in boxes with plastic bag liners that get annoying to keep in a cupboard (e.g. cereal or crackers). This seemed like a pretty good ecological practice: reusing containers that otherwise would get thrown away or recycled. While this is relatively correct, as I've been looking into the effects of plastics on our bodies, I've come to feel that this is perhaps not the best way to store food. Also, we used plastic dishes for our kids, to reduce dish breakage, but these are all now quite old and scratched, which makes them more susceptible to leakage of harmful chemicals into our food.

I rounded up all the glass jars sitting around in various storage locations, waiting to be filled with this summer's canned goods, and I stored my dry goods in them instead, for now. I was thinking I might go to thrift stores and collect glass and ceramic containers in the future so I can reuse the canning jars for canning. I can also start collecting glass containers, such as those pasta sauce jars you see in the picture, and reusing them. But for now, the picture shows a couple shelves of dry and canned goods. You can see that it's a work in progress: there are still some plastic containers because I ran out of jars.

Also, much to my chagrin, I noted in my last post that most metal cans actually have a plastic (epoxy) coating! I'm not sure what to do about this yet. Some of the things I get as canned food is more out of laziness anyway, such as cooked or refried beans, which would be fairly easy to make from dried beans and store in glass.

You'll be happy to note that hardly any of these plastics actually contained BPA. All of the containers and dishes in the first picture were made from the "safe" plastics: #1, #2, #4 or #5. All of my Tupperware-like containers are from these safer numbers as well, and for the moment I'm keeping those, for lack of better storage containers for leftovers and for frozen foods.

The one thing I did find that was one of the dangerous numbers was my box of plasticware, which is #6. This number doesn't contain BPA, but it contains another harmful chemical, polystyrene, which is an endocrine disruptor/exhibiting estrogen activity (disrupts your hormone system, as stated above, by acting like the hormone estrogen, and causing your hormonal system to react in strange ways including developing reproductive issues and/or cancer cells). So these plastic forks, spoons and knives that we put directly into our mouths are made from one of the worst type of plastic.

There were a few items in my kitchen that didn't have a number on them. There were a couple plastic bowls with no numbers. Some said they're made from melamine, which apparently is a kind of plastic that doesn't have any BPA but is probably on the same level as all the other plastics. I guess the fact that it doesn't have a recycling number means that it's not recyclable, though.

The one that surprised me and gave me pause was my Brita water filter. There are no numbers on it, and the whole thing is made of plastic. We drink water from the Brita filter because it's supposed to be better for us, right? But if all this about plastics leaching chemicals into food and drinks is true, are these filtration systems more helpful or harmful? If you just run water through a system attached to your faucet, even if it's plastic it might not be too bad since it doesn't sit in there for a long time. But what about these plastic pitchers?

I found another blogger who helpfully contacted both Brita and Pur to find out about the plastics used in their water pitchers and shared their responses. Both claim their pitchers are made from BPA-free plastics, but the numbers aren't listed because the pitchers can't be recycled. But, Brita's pitchers are made from polypropylene and styrene, the latter of which is supposed to be fairly harmful, and the pitcher itself is made from that type. Pur responded by listing the plastic numbers that would be on there if it could be recycled, which are #5, #6 and #7. #5 is OK, but #6 and #7 are more harmful.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 3, research

If you missed my earlier posts this week, I'm doing a lenten practice where I take on an eco-challenge each week from a workbook by the Northwest Earth Institute called "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." This week's eco-challenge is to eat as BPA-free as possible. I'm finding out this is easier said than done!

Yesterday I wondered about products from Annie's and Stoneyfield, wondering whether these companies that emphasize organic, non-GMO and hormone-free ingredients were silently killing us with plastic, but I received word back from my comments to these companies that there is NO BPA IN THEIR CONTAINERS. Woo-hoo!

At this point, my questions about this challenge center around two areas: what kinds of plastics contain BPA, and what's the big deal--what does it do to us? Today I'll focus on the first of these questions--what has BPA, anyway? What is it that we should be avoiding? Perhaps if I was telling this story systematically I would do the questions the other way around, but I don't care, this is what stood out to me today.

I wish I had time to do more in-depth research, but from my quick perusal of the web and thanks to my good friend Becky, I found a website called the Environmental Working Group, which has all sorts of useful information, and some other websites and data on BPA. The Environmental Working Group has a helpful article entitled "Tips to avoid BPA exposure." Here are some of the highlights from that article and elsewhere:
  • Plastics to avoid: hard plastics #3, #6, #7 and "PC." (Only 7 & PC have BPA, but the others have DEHP or Polystyrene, which are other endocrine disruptors, which I'll research and explain tomorrow or soon.)
  • Plastics without BPA (or other harmful additives): #1, #2, #4, #5.
  • As probably most of us who have kids know, it's really bad to feed your babies from bottles with BPA. If you feed them liquid formula, a lot of BPA gets into the formula, too, from the cans, although powders don't have this problem.
  • The big issue for adults is that metal cans are lined with plastic/epoxy that contains BPA, which means that most of the time when we're eating canned foods, we're ingesting BPA. This goes for metal water bottles and coffee cups, too, unless they're stainless steel.
  • It's especially bad to heat plastics with BPA and then eat/drink the contents. (Even the better plastics shouldn't be heated because it releases chemicals that don't generally leach otherwise.)
  • Also bad is eating/drinking from plastics that are scratched.
  • Off-brand plastic wrap and sandwich bags seem to be dangerous sometimes as well. The following video says Glad cling wrap is OK, as are Ziplock bags and Saran Wrap, and what you want to look for on these is "PVC-free."

Still reading? Awesome! Because that was all the good news.

The bad news? It's likely that no plastic is really safe to eat or drink from. Ugh. The main problem with BPA is that it's a "hormone disruptor," or they have chemicals that mimic "estrogenic activity." More on that tomorrow/soon. The kicker: these are found in food that has been in all kinds of plastic, regardless of whether it has BPA in it. Other chemicals that are used to make plastic have these estrogen mimickers in them, too, they're just not BPA so no one is concerned because BPA is the one that has the most research against it.

Tomorrow's job? Go through my kitchen and look for plastics 3, 6, 7 and PC and recycle them.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

eco-lent: week 1, day 2, addicted to plastic

Plastics to recycle or throw away after a trip to the store
Yesterday I shared about my lenten practice this year: working each week on an eco-challenge from a workbook by Northwest Earth Institute, "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." I may not (probably won't) post something every day, but today I have a bit of time and I've been thinking about the first eco-challenge and how difficult it is.

This week's eco-challenge is to eat a BPA-free meal, or eat BPA-free for a whole day, or even for the whole week. BPA stands for bisphenol A, a plastic additive that is linked to a range of health issues.

Plastic containers for recycling
It's nice to think about eating BPA-free meals, but in assessing my habits and the ways foods are packaged, this is a lot harder than it sounds! I went shopping today and came home with a pile of plastics that went in the trash or recycling, and I also had several containers that were used and recycled throughout the day. Also, I took my reusable bags, but ended up with more groceries than bags and had to use a few plastic ones. I'm not sure whether all these types of plastic use BPA yet--I need to do some research. But whether or not they use BPA, many of them can't be recycled (or recycling them isn't supported in my/most area(s), and so there is SO MUCH trash going to landfills each day. This may not be as much of a current health hazard to us, but can't be good as we think long-term into the future of our kids and grandkids.

Of all these plastics, only one said that it was BPA-free: the Langer's apple juice bottle.

Many of these products are organic. The milk was rBST-free; the yogurts and peanut butter touted their organic ingredients.

I got some Annie's products, and the boxes were made from post-consumer waste and had little windmills that showed they were produced using sustainable energy, but there was nothing on the packaging that mentioned what kind of plastic was used and whether or not it contained BPA. (I did notice on their website, however, that they say less than 1% of packaging, by weight, is plastic--but of course plastic bags don't weigh very much! I just sent them a comment to ask them about whether their plastic uses BPA.)

I had some Stoneyfield Yo-Baby yogurt, USDA organic ingredients with no hormones, pesticides or genetically modified foods (although why they feel the need to put sugar in baby yogurt is beyond me!), so all the ingredients were "healthy" but the packaging didn't mention what it was made of. Also, when I fill up the sink with hot water from the tap, the containers shrivel, making me wonder how safe that particular plastic is and how much of it leeches into my kiddos as they're eating the product. (I sent them a comment, too--we'll see if I learn anything in the next few days.)

Even at home it's hard to not put things in plastic. I have plastic containers to store leftovers, and I reuse large plastic jars to store things like rice, crackers, cereal and quinoa. I send things to school in plastic containers in my son's lunch. Even the dishes my kids eat off are plastic, so they won't break if (when) they drop them. Though we try to reuse Ziplock bags, they still are made of plastic.

I do try to avoid microwaving things in plastic or pouring boiling water into plastic, but at times I do pour boiling water over frozen food to thaw it enough to get it out of the plastic container. This probably destroys all the health benefits of storing away my local, organic produce for use in the winter!

So today, perhaps I'm on the first step of the 12-steps to recovery program: recognizing I have a problem. I'm addicted to plastic.

The second step is to "believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." I guess that's what Lent is all about, right? It's about re-orienting ourselves in such a way that we recognize our own weaknesses, our own powerlessness to do anything about it, and the fact that God has already done what needs to be done, all we have to do is follow. Might this extend to plastic addictions? Do we have the ability to trust that God is the God even of plastics manufacturing and the structure of our culture's food system? Do we have the audacity to imagine a different way, and to let God imagine it into existence through our lives?

New goal: eat a meal tomorrow where none of my family members eat off plastic dishes that contain BPA, or about which I don't know if they contain BPA.

Second new goal: research the ways that BPA harms us. Is it through direct contact between the food and the plastic? Is it through trash breaking down and getting into our water, and other avenues that it can enter the food system? What are the major types of plastic-to-food leakage to avoid? What kind of plastics contain BPA?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

eco-lent: week 1

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. As a Quaker, perhaps it's not completely "kosher" to practice Lent, and I discussed my thoughts on that way back in 2006, here. For those of you who weren't raised in a liturgical tradition and/or who don't know much about Lent, it's a time to prepare our lives and hearts for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Generally, this is about "giving something up," a sign of our participation with God in the sacrifice of dying on the cross.

My F/friend Beth over at the "Five Kids is a Lot of Kids" blog is practicing "getting rid of crap" this Lent, spending 15 minutes each day focusing on one small area of her house or project she can complete in order to get rid of the junk in her house...which all of us totally know can accumulate if we have ANY kids, or if we ARE kids...or if we USED TO BE least if you're ME. She inspired me to practice Lent a bit more intentionally this year, and while I definitely need to do the 15 minutes a day of getting rid of crap, what I've decided to do for my personal practice is to do a weekly eco-challenge.

As I said in my recent post, and probably most of my posts from the last year (of which there apparently weren't many), I've been feeling led to try to live more sustainably: to live in such a way that the Earth can replenish itself each year, that I'm not taking more than my share, and that I practice the Quaker value of simplicity. But this is seriously HARD! For one thing, it's hard to get rid of my sense of entitlement that everything I want should be available to me at all times. This has never been true for anyone else in the whole history of the world before the last couple generations. Why should it be true for us? What is it doing to us psychologically, socially and ecologically to live in this way?

So for Lent, I'm attempting to take a few tiny steps towards more sustainability, toward taking care of this Earth that is under our charge and in which we participate.

I'm getting ready to co-teach a class this summer entitled "Poverty & Restorative Earthkeeping" with my colleague Dan Brunner. I'm really excited about this course! One of the books we're considering using is from the Northwest Earth Institute called "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet." It's a workbook you could use with a small group in your meeting or congregation, if you want, and it's also suitable for undergrad or seminary courses.

At any rate, this book suggests weekly eco-challenges: ways you can attempt to practice living more healthily for the sake of yourself, others and the planet. The first week's eco-challenge is to try not to eat foods packaged in plastic that contains BPA (bisphenol A). They suggest either planning one meal that is BPA-free, one day's worth of food, or even attempting the whole week without foods packaged in plastic containing BPA. Why? BPA is:
"a chemical that mimics estrogen and is raising concern among consumers and many scientists for its links to a host of health issues: prostate, breast and testicular cancer; lower sperm counts; obesity; aggression in girls; reproductive and neurological defects; cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes." NWEI "A World of Health," 2010, p. 26
This week I'm going to be more aware of the foods I eat and whether they are packaged in plastic. If they are, I'll look at the labels to see if they say whether or not they contain BPA.

If you're interested in learning more about this workbook, here's a helpful video from NWEI:

Monday, March 03, 2014

how we're getting around

As I've shared before, over the last few years I've felt a growing call to do what I can to try to live in a way that shows more care for the Earth. This is our home, the place God put in our care. We are part of "nature"; it is not a tool for us to use as we wish. What we do to the planet, we do to ourselves.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a couple things about what we've been doing lately to try to live that out, not only with our beliefs but with our actions.

Yesterday, we leased a Nissan Leaf, which is a fully electric car. We've been thinking about this for a while, but until recently, it hasn't seemed practical or affordable. At this point, leases are extremely affordable. It's easy to charge at home with no extra equipment required, except the cord you receive with the car. It rides a lot like a Toyota Prius, but never kicks on the gas! It's really quiet. It actually beeps when you back up, so that pedestrians have some warning. So far we really like it! It can go over 100 miles on a charge if you're driving carefully (i.e., not testing its acceleration), and there are charging stations all over now.

When we're not in our car, we have some new wheels of the 2-wheel variety as well! For our eldest's 7th birthday, he got a bike with gears so he can keep up a little better. (In the photo, he was just trying to bike around to see what it felt like in the snow...we didn't actually make him ride it to get places in the snow!) Also, our youngest is 3, and the other day I tried him out on the trailer bike, and he can reach the pedals! He's been enjoying riding around town. Usually I still bring the bike trailer to put all our stuff in. This means we can go to the grocery store and get a whole load rather than having to limit what we can carry home. It's great to get good exercise as we do the things we need to do throughout the day, and to know we're not spewing as many fossil fuels into the air each time we drive somewhere.