How Green Are You?

Happy Earth Day, folks. No matter what you think about the 38th annual eco-fest, here are some indisputable statistics about the state of our planet:

The Earth is getting hotter and hotter

The oceans are getting emptier and emptier.

The rainforests are getting smaller and smaller.

Americans are getting fatter and fatter.

(Kim O'Donnel)

I'm not suggesting that all of these phenomena are related, but it's dawning on me more and more just how incredibly fragile our ecosystem is, how quickly these changes happened and how much they impact our lives.

Whether or not we like it, believe it or can afford it, our daily choices have a measurable environmental impact, which cuts across all geographic, political, religious, racial and socioeconomic lines. It's tied to how we clean our house, our clothes and our bodies, the cars we drive and how we get to work and school, how we travel, where we travel, and what we put in our mouths every day, three times a day.

All month long, I've been offering a daily "eco-bite" in this space, a petite morsel of environmental food news or info to ponder, consider or chew on in the days leading up to Earth Day. But until now, I haven't asked for your side of the green story.

Where are you when it comes to green? Are your eyes glazed over from the glut of information or are you inspired to do more? Tell us how you participate (or not) in the greening of the planet. And take the poll below, if you so please.

All green food topics are up for grabs in this week's What's Cooking, today at noon.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 22, 2008; 9:55 AM ET Eco-Bites , Sustainability
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I'm trying. I am.

It started with using white vinegar to do household cleaning and cloth diapering (debateable, for water useage) the kids, with line drying when it's above freezing. Running the dishwasher when it's FULL, and cutting out extraneous trips to Starbucks because gas is expensive.

Now I'm adding eating local and seasonal produce/products, which cuts out most seafood. I hope to support of my friend's CSA if I could convince my husband that the initial outlay is less than we pay - as a household - to the big companies in annual subsidies.

Thanks for your blog and for your chats, Kim. I don't think that I'd be as interested in food, where it comes from and its preparation if it weren't for your forums!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 22, 2008 10:38 AM

I know I'm not so green where it counts because I prefer to drive to work when I could take Metro. Most of my efforts have to do with not wasting water, especially upon hearing news reports about how bad things are in Australia and how everyone there is so mindful of water conservation. I haven't gone so far as capturing the water as I get ready to shower in the morning, but I do turn off the tap when I'm shaving and swish my razor in a bit of water I've gathered in the sink as I lather up. In the kitchen I also try not to run the water when cleaning up. Rather than rinse the dishes, I soak them and just wipe them with a sponge. (Pre-washing dishes before loading them into the dishwasher has always been a pet peeve of mine anyway.) I've heard that dishwashers use water more efficiently than running the water in the sink to wash dishes by hand. I also do not use the drying cycle on my dishwasher as I ususally wash the dishes overnight or when I leave for work. Oh, and I also don't use paper napkins. We use cloth napkins that we use repeatedly until they NEED to be cleaned. Not much but it's somethin'!

Posted by: Sean | April 22, 2008 11:38 AM

Interesting point from Centre of Nowhere about cutting out seafood. The 'local = sustainable' notion is often true, but in some cases it may not be. For example, there's a growing body of evidence that transportation (i.e. food miles) accounts for only a small fraction of seafood's carbon footprint. Often the catch or farming method is a much better indicator, so something that's locally-caught by bottom trawling or dredging might be worse overall than something caught from farther away with a less fuel-intensive gear. Just food for thought.

Posted by: Fish nerd | April 22, 2008 12:01 PM

With the majority of the world's fisheries predicted to collapse by 2048, I think we should be avoiding seafood, whether it's local or from far away. There are many other more sustainable ways to obtain protein and omega 3 fatty acids than eating seafood. Planted based sources of omega 3 acids such as walnuts, flax seed, and hemp seed are not only less expensive and more sustainable than fish but also aren't contaminated with mercury, pcbs and other hazardous chemicals that are found in the flesh and oil of fish. Eating low on the food chain is generally the most sustainable way to eat of all.

Posted by: Andrea | April 22, 2008 12:16 PM

the Earth isn't getting warmer you koolaid drinking moron- hmm how many science and physic classes have you actually attended and completed- probably the same as fat al gore - your environmental lies don't help what the real issue is- uneducatated people making poor financial and personal health choices-

Posted by: Marinobamawacko | April 22, 2008 12:57 PM

Marinobarnawacko, whether the earth is warming or not, it couldn't hurt to be more aware of where your food is coming from.

Me, I try to take "green" steps where I can, but don't sweat it if I can't. I use reusable bags at the grocery stores, white vinegar for cleaner, etc. Some things I would do for other reasons happen to be green - buying at the farmer's market, taking public transportation, etc. But ultimately, there is a line I will not cross and that is sacrificing some of my own comfort.

I have enjoyed the eco-bites and the blogs on sustainable foods. If nothing else, it is more information to use in making choices.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | April 22, 2008 1:07 PM

Hi Fish Nerd,

Thank you for the points you raise in your post - you're right. FWIW, I'm trying to make my decisions based both on how the product was raised/ caught/harvested, and also how far it then has to travel to get to me. Living inland in PA, it is still hard for me to justify products that are wild-caught or sustainably farmed far beyond our borders. Plus here, you just never know how fresh that stuff is in the fishcase or eatingplace (flashback to the bad bay scallops I had in a restaurant 10 years ago, which almost swore me off consuming seafood out here altogether). I like talking to restauranteurs about the freshness/sources of their menu items, but have had little luck in finding a reputable fishmonger. I'm still looking.

It IS rainbow trout season right now (locally farm-raised, then released into the local streams for catching); if my brother-in-law is reading this and wants to share any of his catch from last weekend or this one, I certainly won't say no!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

P.S. has all kinds of products (pretty, utilitarian, natural fiber, etc.) to cut down on everyday plastic bag use.

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | April 22, 2008 1:50 PM

I used to be CSA-subscribing, metro taking green, but *sigh* now travel weekly for work (on a plane! with a rental car!) and will take my green- veggies or otherwise- anyway I can get them.

Posted by: cew5x | April 22, 2008 4:52 PM

Aside from tightening up our house as much as we can (our last heating oil bill was $700! Ouch!) we are also trying to make green choices outside.

Our yard is too shady (and the deer too prevalent) for a vegetable garden. So we decided to landscape with a variety of native perennials. I've got a few Japanese hybrids here and there, but I'm really trying to go native as much as I can. My neighbors are doing this too. Over the past couple of years, I've noticed different butterflies and birds that I've never seen before. We also persuaded a developer doing a project nearby to preserve most of the specimen trees. They're also planting some native landscaping.

We are planning to get a rain barrel this year to catch run off from our gutters to water the front garden. We tend not to water our lawn, which isn't heavily grassy anyway.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 22, 2008 5:33 PM

I think it's funny when people are doing their little green things like using vinegar, and the rain-barrel thing, avoiding plastic bags, etc., but then I see these same people go out and buy a new car. Newsflash! A new car represents tons of raw materials, barrels of oil for all of the new plastic. A used car represents recycling.And by the way, Marinobamowacko, I think your name says it all. How many Greenland core samples have you examined? I'll bet you get your science right out of Bob Jones Univ.

Someone was saying recently that if we (Americans) cut out our meat intake by 20 percent a year, the savings in terms of raw energy and grain that is used to feed the animals would be truly astounding and would go a long way in terms of conserving energy resources and having more grain to feed the rest of the world.

Posted by: Dave | April 22, 2008 6:19 PM

those animals shouldn't be eating grain in the first place.

go grass-fed.

Posted by: where's the beef? | April 22, 2008 6:57 PM

I live in an apartment in downtown DC so I can't do as much as I would like (like having a garden, which I would love). However I do: 1. Use reusable bags as much as possible, although now and then I forget them, in which case I use the plastic bags as trash bags. 2. Don't own a car and walk or bike pretty much everywhere. 3. Turn off and unplug my computers when I'm not using it-otherwise it still uses some power. 4. Open the windows instead of turning on the AC. 5. Grow lettuce and herbs in my windowsill. 6. Buy food at my local farmers market, which means budgeting, but its worth it.7. I recycle and re-use things as much as possible. 8. I try not to buy things I don't need, or I buy used items.

However, at the same time I fly about once every three months, can't compost (Some places in the US, and some countries in Europe actually have city composting centers and your compostable materials are picked up separately from the non-biodegradable trash, I wish they did that in DC), and still have windex in my house (this needs to change).

Posted by: Lyra | April 23, 2008 12:36 PM

You're great!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 7:26 PM

What's wrong with Windex?

Posted by: Curious | April 25, 2008 2:54 PM

Sean, it's nice that you try to conserve water, but frankly you should ditch all of that and start riding Metro. If you lived in the American West or in Australia, water conservation would be very important, but we get plenty of rain here. That doesn't mean you should waste, but I'd rather have you waste water than gasoline!

Posted by: Phil | April 30, 2008 4:19 PM

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