Monday, 31 January 2011

A Tasty, Sustainable Fish Dish?

Having found out about Hugh's Fish Fight I wanted to buy something other than cod or haddock to make our Red Thai Fish Curry with. It is a tried and tested recipe, I found in an Ainsley Harriott cookery book I bought years ago.  It's a good recipe to make if you are feeding a lot of people, too, and we hadn't made it since our silver wedding party nearly 18 months ago. It's not something we can make for our kids as one doesn't eat fish and the other doesn't like spicy food.

Anyway, I went to Waitrose looking for coley or pollack as it now seems to be called, which is a perfectly good fish for this recipe.  We used to buy it fairly often some while back when money was tighter than it is now.  Unfortunately Waitrose didn't have any, but it did have some hake with a label saying it was from an Marine Conservation Society approved fishery or something like that.

However, when I got home I took a look at the MCS list of sustainable fish, hake wasn't on there, only a warning against hake from Spain and Portugal.  I think the hake I bought was probably OK to buy and it certainly tasted nicer than coley, but I think I shall see what fish the fish shop in our local farm shop sells.  I haven't looked at Sainsbury's fish counter lately, either.

If you want to take a look at the MCs list of sustainable fish you can download it from here
Marine Conservation Society's sustainable fish guide

The curry was very nice, not least because hubby made it.  I made the celeriac soup we had as a starter.  We served the curry with flat green beans from Riverford and organic brown rice mixed with wild rice grown by indigenous North Americans.

Rubbish Diet Challenge: One Week's Rubbish

I weighed the rubbish bag again yesterday afternoon, so a week after last emptying my bin, and it was still barely 2 pounds, and less than a kilo.

We'll have to see what the coming weeks bring.  I haven't made any special efforts, yet last Autumn I felt it would be far too much trouble to try the challenge.  As I said before, what I have done is gradually change my attitude to rubbish and waste in general over the last few years.

Realising that most of the bulk of my bin was made up of plastic bags, I've set aside some plastic packaging I acquired yesterday, which says it is recyclable and made with plastic no.4: low density polyethylene used for carrier bags and bin liners.  So that kind of plastic should be fine to put in the carrier bag recycling bins.  I'll try and watch out for it in future.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Taking the Rubbish Diet Challenge

In 2008, spurred on by a challenge from her local council Karen Cannard, aka Almost Mrs Average, decided to embark upon a rubbish diet and to set up a blog to chart her progress.  I heard her talking about it on Woman's Hour and decided to find out more.

Recycling: Cardboard, Tetrapasks and mixed plastics
Since then I have given my rubbish a bit more thought, recycled a bit more and tried to bring home less packaging.  However, I did not feel I could dictate what the rest of my family bought as they were either adults or very nearly adult, and my son was doing his own cooking, as well as spending his wages on various items that came with lots of packaging.

Now the kids are both at uni, I'm thinking it should be easier to control the amount of potential rubbish I bring into the house, so I thought I'd see what I can do to further reduce the amount of rubbish I create.

This week has been an ideal time to start as hubby has been away. Since I last emptied the kitchen bin on Sunday I have mostly thrown away the little plastic bags that dried goods come in as I can't buy everything from Suma.  I'm not really sure if I should be recycling them as I don't know what kind of plastic they are and I wouldn't want to contaminate the plastic bag collections at our local supermarkets.

As far as I can remember, I have also thrown away the skin from one cooked chicken breast, some bits of Parmesan cheese I cut off because it looked like it was starting to go a little mouldy, a few bits of burnt chips,  and today I emptied the contents of the vacuum cleaner in it.  I nearly put a piece of dry bread in there as it will attract rats in the compost, but as it isn't mouldy I decided I'd feed it to the birds.

Not very interesting or appetising stuff.

My sink-side bin for vegetable peelings etc.
We also have separate containers for raw, vegetable kitchen waste, cardboard, recyclable plastics not collected by our council, recyclable metal and plastics collected by our council, waste paper and also bottles for kerbside collection and tetrapaks. I put receipts and other personal papers in with the compost.

Now I know there are just two of us living here most of the time, but even when there were four of us being what I'd call extravagant in the amount of rubbish we created, one dustbin full a week was plenty, so I'm not sure why the Daily Mail think it is so terrible that some councils are only allowing residents 80 black bin bags a year.
Of course we always recycled our newspapers and glass, and more recently tins, but now nearly everyone has these and more collected from the kerb outside their house what excuse can they have for throwing that sort of thing in their bins?

So, all that remains is for me to weigh my kitchen bin bag.  The scales didn't move, so I emptied the other bins into it.  There wasn't much but the scales moved to near the two pound mark if I put the bag down firmly enough.  Mind you this is only 4 days' rubbish.  I'll try to weigh the bag again on Sunday.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fight for Fish

The other day Gai reminded me that Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall has launched another campaign.  Now that people are buying a lot less eggs from caged hens, he wants us to ask MEPs to change the Common Fisheries Policy to prevent half of all fish caught in the North Sea from being discarded because of the current quota system imposed by the CFP, which is what is happening at the moment.

If you believe this policy is madness and leading to an unsustainable fish population you might like to put your name to Hugh's letter to Commissioner Maria Damanaki, members of the Common Fisheries Policy Reform Group, and all MEPs.

If you want you next fish and chip supper to be made with a more plentiful fish like mackerel find out what is available in your area, here.

You can also test your knowledge on fish and their sustainability with Hugh's fish challenge quiz.  I was pleased that I did not come in last plaice, but apparently I could do batter.  Only 16% are a dab hand, it seems.

On the strength of that I shall see if I can buy some coley, or pollack as it seems to be called these days, this weekend to make a fish curry.  It looks a bit grey and might taste a little stronger than cod, but in a dish with other flavours such as a fish pie, it's absolutely fine.   I'm also wondering what I might be able to do with mackerel over the next week or two.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Reflection On Judging Others

 "Do not judge others and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you yourselves will be judged . . ."    (Matthew 7:1)
"Many of us have learned patterns of speaking that backfire. One of these is judging other people. Often, we do this to feel better about ourselves, and possibly to meet our own needs for acceptance and belonging, yet just the opposite happens. Whenever we judge anyone else in anyway, we create a barrier and distance between us and the other person. This occurs every time we judge another person as lazy, stupid, a bad dresser, egotistical, or uncaring. Every moralistic judgement separates us from other people and limits our ability to meet the very needs we set out to meet, such as feeling better about ourselves, acceptance and belonging.

"Instead of judging, then, notice how you feel about someone's actions, or how you feel when you see something. If you are skiing and someone cuts in front of you, rather than thinking [he or] she is a jerk or a maniac, consider that you are scared and you'd like the slopes to be safer.  This slight shift from judging other people to awareness of how their behaviour affects you can make a profound difference in your ability to live peacefully."

                                                 From 'Peacful Living' by Mary Mackenzie

The above seems particularly relevant with Holocaust Memorial Day being marked on Thursday of this coming week.

How much distrust and enmity between races and religions stems from people judging others?  We hear of people feeling afraid of young people when they gather in groups on street corners, yet sometimes these youngsters just want somewhere to meet and are merely chatting.  There seem to be more tall young men around, so shorter people may well feel intimidated by them, but that doesn't mean they are violent.

It only takes a few steps from turning our feelings of fear into an assertion that a particular group are violent and then that all people like that are violent, whether young men, or young men from a particular racial group. From there a general distrust of all people from that ethnic background may lead to us seeing them all with suspicion, perhaps even deciding to strike them before they strike us.

Sometimes religion can encourage people to judge others, such as when people from one religion believe that God is displeased with everyone who does not accept the teachings of their religion.  This might just make the adherents of this religion annoying as they try to point out to everyone 'the error of their ways', but it can cause one group of people to see another group of people as enemies of God whose lives have less value than their own. The attitude of the Crusaders towards the Muslims is an example of this, which has had dire repercussions for nearly a thousand years.

In Germany between the wars many people were keen to be judgemental and prejudiced where the Jews were concerned, partly due to religious teaching and partly due to resentment and jealousy towards wealthy Jews whose businesses continued to thrive while many Germans struggled to make ends meet during the Depression of the 1930's.  This attitude meant that some people felt the Jews were better out of the way, so they didn't ask too many questions when their Jewish neighbours disappeared.

Unfortunately the idea that life would be better without other people around, so much so that people are prepared to kill people from another ethnic group continues today, with the wars in Rwanda and what was once Yugoslavia, not to mention what is still happening in Israel-Palestine, as prime examples.

'When will they ever learn?'  'Wann wird man je verstehen?' as the song, 'Where Have all the Flowers Gone?' says.

Whether it is due to our own inclination or religious teaching it is always better to avoid the temptation to judge others if we want fulfilled, enriched lives and a peaceful world.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Big Garden Bird Watch

blue tits in our magnolia tree January 2009
It's time to prepare for the Big Garden Birdwatch again.  The RSPB would be very pleased if you could spare an hour next Saturday (29th) or Sunday (30th) to count the birds in your garden.  It's a good way to find out just what is happening to our garden birds.

To increase your chances of finding out which feathered friends are living in your neighbourhood you could put out plenty of birdfood and top up water dishes to encourage them to pay your garden a visit.

Apparently early morning is a good time, but any time will do.

You can find out more about how to take part here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Be Wise with Batteries

"Did you know that it takes 50 times more energy to make a battery than the energy it provides? Use rechargeable batteries when possible."  

                                          Environment Agency

I've found that Uniross Ultra batteries hold their charge better than other batteries I've tried, so are good for things like cameras.  The only trouble is that after buying a pack in Homebase two years ago, I haven't seen them in the shops again, but have found them available on-line.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Resolve to Love Yourself

I heard on the radio this morning that we have just passed 'Blue Monday' the day when most people feel the worst about themselves all year due to the miserable weather, worrying debt, less wages than they would like, and to top it all, a feeling of failure because they have not stuck to (probably unrealistic) new year's resolutions.

In Thought for the Day this morning Rhidian Brook suggested one cure for these mid-Winter blues was to make resolutions realistic and even bite sized.  So rather than say 'I will get fit' or 'I will lose 2 stone', plan a walk or other enjoyable physical activity for today, and perhaps a couple more times in the week ahead. 20 minutes at your own pace is a good idea for beginners, but if you are already fairly active then thirty minutes building up to 5 times a week would be a reasonable plan.

Excessive, gruelling exercise will weaken your immune system, which is the last thing you want at this time of year.

Likewise, if you have planned to diet, why not change that plan to eating more healthily, filling up with hearty vegetable soups and maybe some salad with your lunch. Low fat is good, especially animal fat, but fat is essential to our health, so use small amounts of vegetable oils and nibble on a few nuts rather than high fat cheese.  Apparently coconut and coconut milk should also be used sparingly as they contain less healthy fat.

If you have been concentrating on saving the planet or helping other people, or both, now is the time to make sure you have time for yourself: time to relax and time to do things you enjoy.

The second commandment of the Ten Commandments is often quoted to encourage people to help others, but the second part of that commandment is often overlooked:
'love your neighbour as you love yourself'
I've had it said to me that it means that as you look after your own needs, so you should look after the needs of others, but to my mind, simply feeding and clothing people as a way of showing that you really care for them seems an inadequate expression of love, which is not to say that there is no place for charitable giving.

What many people seem to have forgotten is that there are plenty of people who do not love themselves, and they may well be unpleasant to others and find it hard to express real love as a result.  People who feel inadequate are often critical of others, to try to feel better about themselves.  People with low self-esteem can be very defensive, which can seem like they are attacking others. People who don't take good care of themselves can be dismissive of others' needs.

So, this year why not resolve to take time to look after your needs. Listen to your body and also your emotional state.  If you are pushing yourself too hard, you may be doing yourself damage and your family and friends may also be suffering if you are too tired to care or to be pleasant.

These days I try to pace myself and take time to do the things I enjoy. I found that learning  to accept myself, warts and all helped me to be much more at ease with myself, and as a result, with other people.

Don't expect to be perfect, no one is.  Don't feel you have to live up to your parents' expectations; do what fulfils your needs and hopes and dreams. Don't hate your faults, we all have them and they are an integral part of who we are.   You could try to do something about the one that annoys you most, but you might need to find out what is behind it first. Remember, too, that if we never fail it is because we never try.

Live to please yourself without being utterly selfish.  If you are happy and healthy you will have more to give others.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Time Is Always Ripe To Do What Is Right

This year, Martin Luther King is being commemorated today.

"Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have people of good will. We have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of women and men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes the ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
                                                                                   Martin Luther King

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Reflections on Non-Violent Communication

Another book I've been reading recently is 'Non-violent Communication' by Marshall B Rosenberg.  Reading it was a 'light-bulb moment'.  Once you understand what he's saying, it's obvious, but it can take a while to understand the concept because it is so alien from the way most of us have been brought up to think.

The basic message is that we all have needs and these needs are perfectly valid.

However, for society to work well we need to balance our needs with the needs of others.  When our needs aren't met we often have a negative reaction.  This can take the form of frustration, disappointment, discouragement, fear, anger or depression etc.  Negative emotions don't help us to get on so well with other people as a rule.  Our negative emotions are a result of not getting our needs met, and they are often not met because we have not communicated them properly.

The book shows us how to communicate our needs effectively as well as how to hear the needs of others.  For instance, a woman who is lonely and fed up because her husband works late, or goes to the pub after dinner, might say, "You don't love me", or even, "I wish you didn't spend so much time doing x or y".  The first statement might make her husband feel defensive and cause an argument, the second might result in him doing something else, but not spending more time with her.  So she would do better to tell him she is feeling lonely and unhappy because she doesn't see him as much as she would like and it would really please her if he could spend more time with her.

The husband might then respond that his needs are being met by doing what he is doing, but for a healthier relationship husband and wife could then sit down and discuss whether they would both be happy with some kind of compromise, such as she would expect a less extravagant lifestyle in return for seeing more of her husband, or out of love for his wife he would buy less of the latest gadgets so that he wouldn't need to work so long.  It might sometimes be possible to find other ways for people's needs to be met.

You really need to read the book, and probably a few times over, to immerse yourself in these ideas and let them permeate your thinking.  I would recommend it highly for it's potential to transform all your relationships, including the one with yourself.

I'm sure this way of looking at things can help us all to feel less aggression and other negative feelings.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Search for Reduced Plastic Meat

Participating in the No Impact Week challenge last week got me thinking about waste, as it was meant to. I got to wondering if I could buy organic meat that didn't come packed in rigid plastic trays, after all if you go to the butcher he* puts the meat in a plastic bag.  The only trouble is the butcher in the high street doesn't sell organic meat.

So, I decided to order some meat from Riverford along with my usual veg box, although it was a bit pricey, but it could last me at least a couple of weeks.

Back in September I decided to start ordering a veg box from Riverford and was very pleased with the lack of plastic. Yesterday was no exception. Not one scrap of plastic with the vegetables.

In fact yesterday even the grapes were in a cardboard tray (see top left).

However, when the meat box came I realised it wasn't the answer as the meat was all in plastic trays and they were all inside a large plastic bag.

So it's back to the drawing board.  There is another local butcher, although a bit out of my way, who might sell organic meat.  Otherwise there is an organic farm shop a few miles away I could go to and combine with looking around another, less local garden centre. The meat looks good quality, though.  Hubby and I had the pork and tomato sausages last night. They are the first meat sausages I have eaten in years and I enjoyed them very much, although they were a little too peppery for our taste, but not so much they spoilt our enjoyment.  Looking forward to the lamb today, which daughter will be joining us for.

The dates on the meat aren't very long, so I shall have to freeze the chicken and the mince.

The fruit and veg is lovely, though, good quality and fresh, so I shall keep getting as much fruit and veg as possible from Riverford.

*I've not yet come across a female butcher.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Don't Be Stuffed: Vote With Your Fork

When I joined the Soil Association last Autumn I was given a free copy of their recent publication, "Stuffed - positive action to prevent a global food crisis ".  This book includes essays from 'soe of the most forward-thinking writers on food and farming' who describe what they believe to be a serious and imminent food crisis looming on the horizon. However, the book is not all doom and gloom, it is a book of solutions as much as it is one of warnings.  See Stuffed website.

We are told early on by Michael Pollan that
"voting with your fork - how you choose to spend you food money - represents one of the most powerful votes you have".

 A bit later on Geetie Singh tells us that
"if we all stopped wasting food, the reduction in our carbon footprint would be equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road."

Vote with your fork
We are also told (on page 136) that "a worldwide switch to organic farming could offset 11% of all global emissions" and (on page 30) that "cutting the average UK family's meat consumption in half would reduce household emissions more than cutting car use in half".

So, if like me, you're having trouble using your car less why not try wasting less food, eating less meat and eating more local, organic produce instead, although walking more could make you healthier.

On a different topic, I'm pretty certain that insulating your house and not turning the heating up too high will also reduce your carbon footprint significantly.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Energy Saving Shepherd's Pie

I was going to make shepherd's pie for my dinner, but then I thought what a waste of using the oven, just for a little shepherd's pie for one person.  There wasn't anything else I wanted to cook at the same time, so I decided it didn't really need to go in the oven.

Shepherd's pie and cottage pie are very similar but the earliest recorded mention is of cottage pie on 29 August 1791 by the Reverend James Woodford who had it for dinner with roast beef.

Shepherd's pie was not mentioned until the 1870's, coinciding with the popularity of mincing machines for shredding meat and the name seems to have originated in Scotland and the North of England where more sheep and less cattle were bred than in most other parts of Britain.

The first cottage pies would have been made with diced up meat from the Sunday roast by frugal peasant housewives.  Adding diced vegetables such as carrots helped to add bulk to the meal and lining the dish with mashed potato and then adding more potato on the top was a cheap way of making the meal even more filling without the expense or bother of making pastry.  Once it was made it could be put aside until nearer dinner time and then just popped in the oven with no more work.  This is an ideal dish for someone who needs to prepare a meal in advance and heat it up later.

I wasn't preparing my meal in advance, so I thought, why bother with putting it in the oven.  By the time I served it up it would look very much the same.

I made my pie with organic minced beef, so perhaps it should be called cottage pie, but for me that recipe contains peas and diced carrots. Not surprisingly for a British dish, nearly all my ingredients came from the British Isles and probably most came from less than 100 miles away.  Most of the vegetables (potatoes. onions, mushrooms) all came from Riverford, so were probably grown in Hampshire.  The one that came from further afield was the sweet potato, which I added for interest, but would not have been known to the 18th century peasant or his wife.

Curtains on Energy Loss

As it is growing dark I am going around the house and shutting all the curtains. This helps to keep the heat in, especially if the curtains are lined, which saves energy, and therefore, money.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Review of No Impact Week

So was my 'No Impact Week' a success?  For me it was.  I only found out that it was happening the day before it started and signed up because I thought it would be a good way to focus on a more sustainable way of life for the new year.  In that respect it was successful.

However, I wasn't able to prepare for it and I didn't do everything I was supposed to do.  Having started trying to live more sustainably six years ago I know that extreme measures don't work for me.

I like a comfortable life and I don't want to have to make more effort than necessary, but I believe that my comfort should not come at the expense of someone else's discomfort.

To me a sustainable life is one that works for individual people as well as for the environment and so step by step I want to try to make my life less exploitative of other people, less greedy for the Earth's resources and to make less and less negative impact on the environment - I don't think it is possible for any human to have lived and made no impact on the environment and even less so now.

Waiting for the Communion service at Greenbelt, 2004
The Year of Living Generously (now simply 'Generous') was dreamt up at Greenbelt in 2004, and I was pleased to join up for it that Autumn, being among the first 100 to take part.  The idea was to take a new step towards a more 'generous' life each month.  Indeed, I started my first blog with a view to to record my choice of monthly actions on it. Some things were easy to do, but I found others much harder or even impossible, and these were all small steps in comparison to what 'No Impact Week' (NIW) asks of us.

With my desire to live more sustainably revitalised, in part thanks to the supportive comments people have made here, I shall now see how sustainable I can make my life in 2011.  I shall also try to post about my progress or otherwise in one of each of the areas covered by NIW over the coming weeks.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A Reflection on Compassion and Non-Violence

Sunday will be the 8th day of the experimental No Impact Week and it is suggested we have an 'Eco-Sabbath'  by keeping all our electrical gadgets switched off.  I plan to visit my parents tomorrow, so that will be easy for part of the day, but I shall probably switch my computer on in the evening to skype my hubby, who is in Lausanne at the moment.

I think it is good to have a day a week to allow ourselves to unwind and reflect and be spiritual, in the sense of connecting with our deeper self, with other people and with the natural world around us.  I think I would still call myself a Christian, although I haven't been to church in a while, but these days my spirituality doesn't involve rules or doctrine, in fact that sort of thing strikes me as likely to stifle spirituality.

A couple of years ago I came across a Buddhist who writes books that made a lot of sense to me, and indeed one of his books is called 'Living Buddha, Living Christ' showed me an expression of Christianity that was very close to what I had come to believe at the same time as presenting Buddhism as very similar.  Both Jesus Christ and the Buddha seem to have wanted to show people a better way of living and these very similar ways have been adopted and adapted over the years into something rather different from what they were meant to be.

No Impact Week: Giving Back

Day 3 was about looking at whether we use more than our fair share of the world's resources or not.

Today is about thinking what we can give back to society and the wider world around us, including the environment.

I don't have much time or energy to spare at present, as I am already doing what I can to support my elderly parents, visit my mother-in-law, who is in a local home and sort out my aunt's affairs, plus take my mother to visit her from time to time, so I think I will take some time today to review my financial giving to charity rather than giving of my time.  We have a few small direct debits set up, and I know charities find this helpful as it helps them plan their finances, but I don't want to do this with every charity I support.  In other cases I'd like to give an amount once or twice a year, but at present the way I do that is a bit haphazard, so I shall try to set aside some time this afternoon to plan my giving for the year.  I think I might find this website helpful.

What I'm hoping to do today is to spend a few hours gardening as well as cleaning out the chickens and topping up the bird feeders, which is giving something back to Nature.  Gardening organically is one way I try not to damage my immediate environment.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Seasonal Food

I took my daughter shopping after I finished work this evening as she is going back to uni tomorrow.  She had planned her meals and made a list of ingredients, one of which was mange-tout, so I did point out to her that this wasn't a good choice for someone on a budget and that it also involved a lot of food miles, however, I still bought them for her.

Later in the evening she asked me how she could know what was in season.  I wondered if I could find a simple cookbook on the subject but when I searched a couple of on-line bookshops just now there didn't seem to be anything suitable.  However, I did find this website and in case you can't be bothered to look at it yourself, I thought I'd post it's list of what is in season here, as much as reminder to myself.

Thanks to Gai for mentioning Eat Seasonably, which has a shorter, and slightly different list of fruit and veg in season, plus a jolly calendar you can print off as a reminder.

No Impact Week: Feeling Encouraged about Water

So, day 6 of No Impact Week and we are looking at water.

You can calculate your annual cubic metres of water consumption here.  Mine came out at 373*, but some guesswork was involved.

I don't actually know how many kilos of fruit, veg and potatoes I eat every week, but a kilo of each sounded about right.  It doesn't tell you how your result compares with the average water consumption, but as mine is mostly due to my food intake, I don't think I can do much to reduce it and it certainly doesn't seem worth making too much effort to try to reduce the 90 cubic metres that are a result of cleansing myself and the dishes, but if I can run the water for less time that would help.  Running the water for 5 more minutes a day while washing up would add 22 cubic metres to my annual water consumption, while showering for 10 minutes instead of 15 would reduce it by 14 cubic metres.

Eating about 350 grams of lean meat a week has consumed 78 cubic metres of water whereas if I were to reduce it to 250g I would be responsible for the consumption of 22 cubic metres less throughout a whole year.

Drinking 4 cups of tea a day would use 51 cubic metres of water a year, but I wonder if it would be the same for rooibos (red bush) tea, which is what I drink along with water and fruit juice and occasional herbal teas, none of which are mentioned.  In fact you are asked if you drink tea and coffee and these are lumped together as stimulants. There is no allowance for drinks of other kinds.
I must drink at least 102 cubic metres a year as my 4 'cups' of rooibos tea a day come in large mugs.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

No Impact Week: Can I Cut Back on Energy Usage?

Today is day 4 of No Impact Week and we are meant to stop using power, so I'm not going to be taking part wholeheartedly.

It is the middle of January and a balmy 5 degrees above freezing.  Our heating is set at 18 degrees centigrade and I'm wearing warmish socks but my feet are a bit cool, so I had better not sit down for too long.  I'm not switching the heating off in this weather.

Neither shall I be doing without electric light. I woke up at 6.30 am as I usually do and it was pitch black, so I switched the light on as I like to read and think for a little while if I have time, before my brain is cluttered with the worries of the day.  Unlike some members of my family I am happy to do things without the aid of electric light, if they don't need me to look to carefully, but I draw the line at stumbling about in total darkness.  I have also been careful to switch the light(s) off when I leave a room.

I don't need to switch everything off to know what it is like to live without warmth, light and modern appliances.  We found out all we wanted to know about living without heating when our boiler went wrong in Winter a couple of years ago.  I am also old enough to remember the year of strikes and power cuts in the '60's and having to get ready for school by candle light.  And I've had to wash my clothes in the bath because we had no washing machine when we first got married.  Luckily we were able to buy a cheap twin-tub after about six months - but first we had to endure a few months in a badly maintained house with no central heating or double glazing and only small electric fires for heat.  The only good thing was that we realised when we moved out that the electricity metre went backwards.  There had been students living in it the year before, perhaps one of them had tampered with it.

On a more positive note, most of our light bulbs are low energy ones and  we did change to green electricity a few years ago.

I try not to use the tumble dryer more than necessary. We only bought it because my son started doing his own washing and wanted to hang his wet washing up at the same time I was doing my washing.  Now he's left home I won't need to use it so often. When the weather improves I shall be able to hang it outdoors.

We had double glazing put in when we moved to this house and when we had our boiler replaced we had a condensing boiler put in, which is meant to be more efficient.

I think I shall finish now as I have already written about energy usage last year and I think I could be repeating myself.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

No Impact Week: Consuming Our Fair Share

For those who are interested I did manage to walk to work yesterday, but I didn't manage it this morning.  I was asleep when the alarm went off so got up a bit late, and those extra minutes were crucial to being ready in time to walk.  I realised I shall need to see to the chickens quite often as hubby is going to be away a fair bit over the next few weeks, and he usually sees to them on the days I work in the morning.  Can I get organised enough to make walking to work possible when he's away?  Watch this space.

Today's challenge for No Impact Week is to eat locally and seasonally and avoid packaged and processed foods.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

No Impact Week: Reflecting on How I Get Around.

For No Impact Week today I am meant to be thinking about my travel arrangements. Now I live near enough to my place of work to be able to walk there if I have the time, so better planning could make that possible more often.

On the other hand I only work three days each week and once a week I do an evening shift, so I wouldn't walk home then when it's already dark.  I often do shopping after work, so I am doubling up on journeys, but if I planned it right I might only have one or two light items to carry home most days.

I might try walking to work today as hubby isn't back at work yet and he can pick me up after visiting his mum, I'll need to be better organised before walking to work on a regular basis is feasible.  It is something I shall definitely work on. There's also the matter of walking when it's pouring with rain, which I am a bit averse to.

Getting rid of the car is out of the question.  Without a car life becomes much more limited and besided, these days I need to visit my parents at least once a fortnight, who need moral, and sometimes practical support. Even if I don't need to take my mum somewhere, which I usually do, the train is slow and expensive and I'd have to get a bus or taxi at the other end, which would all take a lot of time out of a day's visit.

I also anticipate flying more than usual this year to visit family, so while I shall try to walk more during the week, I shall have to work harder at reducing my carbon footprint in other ways.

A few years ago I participated in something called the Year of Living Generously, which involved undertaking a new 'generous' action each month.  Some actions were about more sustainable living and others were about being a better neighbour.  This got me started into looking at ways I could change the way I lived for the better, but I found that even a small change once a month took some doing and also that other family members weren't always as keen on making the changes as I was.

So I think the best way to make lasting changes is to work on things a bit at a time, going at your own pace, and if you need to get your family to join in,  taking their views and needs into consideration.  Sometimes you just have to give up on some changes to keep the peace, and if those changes are minor it won't be the end of the world.  Other changes might need more subtle tactics and ingenuity or an element of compromise.

For instance, I remember my family weren't too happy when I changed to recycled toilet paper. Indeed, one member protested very vociferously.  After a while I gave it up, to be honest I wasn't all that impressed with the stuff myself.  A year or so later I discovered a softer version of recycled toilet paper and the family accepted it happily.

So perhaps this will be the year I walk more and use the car for less short journeys. It's been something I've thought I should work on for a few years now.  It will also help me achieve my goal of getting fitter, so I shall try to give it a go.

I know I am lucky not to have to go very far to work and therefore, even when I do drive I don't spend hours in slow-moving traffic, but I can choose to walk, too.  In fact my journey to work is mostly downhill, so uses very little petrol, but I need to think of the positive impact walking will have on my health, especially if I take short cuts and avoid all the car fumes in the mornings.

Monday, 3 January 2011

No Impact Week: Considering my Rubbish Output

In case you are wondering about the title, this is not a post in sympathy with anyone who doesn't think well of my blog.  No, today, as part of the No Impact Week I am meant to be considering how much rubbish I produce, looking at what I threw away yesterday and asking if I have thrown away anything that I've used for less than ten minutes.

I am pleased to say that as a follower of the Rubbish Diet blog and an occasional reader of My Zero Waste, over the last few years I have been encouraged to think about how much packaging I bring home with my food shopping, to reduce it and to recycle as much of it as possible.  With the added assistance of both our children leaving home for university last Autumn we have often had only one or two kitchen bin bags full of rubbish per fortnight recently, leaving our large wheely bin well less than half full.  I appreciate there could be room for improvement, but it is a start.

Yesterday I threw a few items of plastic wrapping away, and the most avoidable was from the half baked bread rolls we had for lunch, but with the shops having been closed and not having great enthusiasm to rush to them as soon as they opened, it seemed a sensible way of managing our bread supply.  It is not something we rely on the rest of the year, but I shall keep one or two loaves of that kind to hand, in case I get snowed in again.  With a bit of luck I shall have time to make my own bread from time to time over the next few months.

I shall make a mental note to buy more nuts, seeds and dried fruit from Suma as their bags are now fully recyclable.  Perhaps that is why they are a little bit more expensive than Infinity Foods products, which I also like.  Both are fairly traded and are supplied by workers co-operatives.  This was one plastic wrapper that went to be recycled rather than add to our landfill problems.

Having a cold, I have been using tissues, so I guess some of them were used for less than 10 minutes before being thrown away.  When I don't have a cold I prefer to use handkerchiefs.

In a couple of weeks I shall be on my own for a bit, so that would be a good time to see how much rubbish I produce just by myself.  I'm hoping this year will be less hectic than the last few months have been, although I know I will need to spend some time helping to clear my aunt's house, but hopefully I shan't need to spend too much time phoning people on her behalf as it looks like she might be setting into the nursing home she moved into a month or so ago.  I think you do need to have time to think and plan if you are going to be able to avoid creating much rubbish.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

No Impact Week: My Current Consumerism

So today was about consuming less and thinking about consumption in general.

Well I've done quite a bit of thinking about what I consume over the years and while I do have the occasional splurge on things that are not especially ethical or sustainable (and lets be honest if we only bought things that fell into that category we would have very little choice and there are some items that just don't fall into that category), I don't spend every day shopping.

In the last few months I have invested in a number of woollen jumpers, first of all because I found some that were longer than usual, and women's shirts seem to be longer these days so I glad to find a jumper that covers them up. Then, after all this snow and very cold weather I bought a thicker jumper, which is made from British wool, but I have not yet found out where they are made.  This will mean I won't have to choose between shivering and putting the heating up high if the temperature drops again.

My other recent splurge was on books, which I will admit to having a weakness for.  I ordered several a few days ago, before deciding to do this experiment, as I expect to have more time than usual to read and reflect over the coming months and I thought I'd buy a few books before the VAT increase takes effect on Tuesday.

I like to buy a book by Thich Nhat Hanh from time to time as his brand of engaged Buddhism makes a lot of sense to me. I'd like to be an 'engaged Christian' following his principles, which I'm sure are very close to those Jesus' espoused (indeed, Thich Nhat Hanh once counted Rev Martin Luther King and the trappist monk, Thomas Merton, amongst his friends). So one of his books was amongst the ones I bought.  I also bought a book about candle making as I am keen to try to do this.

Last but not least were a couple of books and a CD by Marshall Rosenberg whose book Non-Violent Communication I've found quite helpful, but I think I shall need to immerse myself in his ideas before I can put them into practice in everyday life.  Learning to be less aggressive, even in subtle and subconscious ways, is an important part of being an engaged Buddhist or Christian, and so I do try to keep an eye out for help in doing that.

So that's a glimpse at my general habits as a consumer.

As for today, well once I decided I needed to buy painkillers, I thought I might as well buy the pizza for tonight's dinner. We also bought a couple of mushrooms and two peppers (reluctantly as they were from Israel) to go on the pizzas, one of which was just cheese and tomato.  As we bought them in Waitrose the packaging was recyclable cardboard and a thin covering of plastic film.  We also bought two cartons of Covent Garden soup, again the cartons are recyclable, a couple of packets of Yeo Valley cheddar (organic and from Somerset but the plastic wrappers are not recyclable here as far as I know) as they are always useful to have, four cartons of non-dairy milk, which I use daily (not 4 cartons, though), the painkillers, some inter-dental brushes, which are important for good dental hygiene according to my dentist and some part-baked bread in elaborate plastic wrapping, which is not good for the environment, but we arrived too late for the fresh baked loaves and besides which, it is still holiday time.  While we were there we also bought some organic mince for tomorrows dinner, which will use up most of the vegetables from the organic veg box we had delivered before Christmas, and, I nearly forgot, a local newspaper.

I'd nearly got back to the car, having paid for the above, when my mobile rang and daughter had sent me a text asking for a Pritt stick.  As this was obviously important to her and she isn't trying the No Impact experiment I went back and bought her one and also picked up a packet of blue tack as I know we have very little in the house and it comes in useful from time to time and somehow we never seem to know we need it in advance.

To prepare for today I needed to  
Type up a list of all the stuff you “need” to buy this week. Delete the items that you can live without for the week. For the rest of the items, figure out if you can purchase them second-hand, borrow them, or make them yourself.

Well, having had some lovely presents for Christmas just over a week ago and with a birthday in a fortnight, I can't think of anything I need just now other than food and a few everyday consumables such as laundry liquid and cleanser, but of course something could crop up as the week progresses and normal life resumes.

How Little Impact Can We Have On Our Environment in 2011?

Happy New Year to you.  I hope your year has got off to a good start, although with all the coughs and colds around at the moment, perhaps, like me, you are not feeling 100%.  I had a cold the weekend before Christmas and I still have a bit of a cough and continue to be lacking in energy, although too much food and later than usual nights may have something to do with that.

So it may not be ideal timing, but I've decided to try the No Impact Man one week experiment as a way of focussing on sustainable living at the beginning of the year, and the experiment starts today.

Sunday, the first day is about looking at everything we consume and, for this week at least, only buying what we really need, such as food.  After Christmas, that shouldn't be too difficult, we probably don't even need much food this week.

However, it does raise the more serious issue of how we as individuals have become defined to some extent by what we own and that most of us consume far more than we really need.

I'm not a fan of second hand and charity shops myself, but I think it is always a good idea to consider if we really need an item and then to buy the best quality that we can afford if it is something we want to last.  If we don't want it to last, do we really need it? 

Buying things that are made as locally as possible helps us to make our purchases more sustainable and if we want to live in a better, fairer world, with less poverty, then paying a fair price, that gives the end producer a living wage will help to make that happen.

I'll let you know at the end of the week how I get on.  If you want to join me, I'd be interested to hear how you get on, too.