Saturday, February 28, 2009

Willy Wonka was on to something.

The illness I had in January seems to be back. I was up most of last night with a non-productive cough and felt bad enough to strongly consider buying an OTC cough medicine, even though I know they don't do much good, nevermind the plastic involved.

This morning I read the Wikipedia article on cough medicine, and saw this:

Recent studies have found that theobromine, a compound found in cacao, is more effective as a cough suppressant than prescription codeine. This compound suppresses the "itch" signal from the nerve in the back of the throat that causes the cough reflex. It is possible to get an effective dose (1 g, though 0.5 g may be sufficient)[3] from 50g of dark chocolate, which contains 2 to 10 times more cacao than milk chocolate. Cocoa powder contains roughly 0.1 g per tablespoon (5g).[4] Theobromine was also free from side effects in the blind tests.[5]

WOW. Dark chocolate can keep me from coughing all night long? Count me in! So after dinner I am off to the store for some paper and foil wrapped dark, dark chocolate-- and Throat Coat tea, a lemon and some fresh ginger. The cough must go.

P.S.: Update-- it works! It REALLY WORKS. I've had 3 blissful nights of sleep, with only minor interruptions from coughing. Next time I'll try cutting down to 25g from 50g of dark chocolate-- I bet it will still work.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You gonna recycle that?

Just wondering.

Not to pick on President Obama, but wouldn't it be nice if famous people were asked why they drink stuff out of plastic containers, and if they recycle them when they are done?

Just a thought.

[Photo from the AP, by Alex Brandon]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A new article on bag bans

Today's New York Times features an article on various bag ban efforts in the U.S. Here are my thoughts on some excepts:

SEATTLE — Last summer, city officials here became the first in the nation to approve a fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in many retail stores. The 20-cent charge was intended to reduce pollution by encouraging reusable bags.

Voters in Seattle will decide in August whether to accept a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, like these carried by Shannon Blackley, in many retail stores.

But a petition drive financed by the plastic-bag industry delayed the plan. Now a far broader segment of Seattle’s bag carriers — its voters — will decide the matter in an election in August.

Even in a city that likes to be environmentally conscious, the outcome is uncertain.

20 cents?
That is a hefty fee! I can completely see why the outcome of the vote is uncertain. I would be tempted to vote against it. Why did they settle on 20 cents and not a nickel, like bans being considered in other states?
In Connecticut, a bill that would put a 5-cent fee on most paper and plastic bags is being promoted as potentially raising as much as $10 million a year for the depleted budget of the Environmental Protection Department.

“We’re not just exploring how can we get more money out of this,” said State Representative Kim Fawcett, a Fairfield Democrat who is sponsoring the bill. “We’re asking, ‘How can we help people change their behavior?’ ”

Taxing and levying fines on those who can least afford it rubs me the wrong way. But making the fee optional if one but changes behaviors takes the sting out of it, as does making that fee smaller (even well meaning shoppers will forget at first, and I'm sure a 5-cent fee would annoy, but a 20-cent fee would enrage-- you know?). Ultimately, I think the goal of removing a portion of plastic pollution is worth the effort, and so much the better if moneys collected from the fees can be used for environmental clean-up.

My favorite part of NYC's current bag recycling law is the requirement for stores to not only offer recycling containers, but to provide re-usable bags for sale-- the reason we see so many re-usable shopping bags with store logos on them now is a direct result of the law. Stores didn't all start selling them at once out of a desire to be green! They did it because they had to. That part of the law is intended to change people's behavior-- and it is working.
Over the last year, bag makers have increased their marketing efforts, saying that their product has been unfairly maligned and that they will do more to reduce waste through recycling.

I will believe that when I see it. I am highly doubtful. Recycling all that plastic is bound to be more expensive than manufacturing new plastic. Of course I don't know that as a certainty, but come ON.
In the Manhattan Beach case, a Superior Court judge ruled on Friday in favor of bag makers, saying the city should have determined whether a ban on plastic bags would have caused environmental damage by increasing the use of paper bags.

What about comparing plastic bags to re-usable bags? Was that even mentioned?
“The important thing to understand from the perspective of this industry is that there’s not a single manufactured product on earth that has no environmental profile,” Mr. Joseph said.

Mr. Joseph has a point. But I have to think that a reusable bag has a better environmental profile than a plastic one-time-use bag.
“For some reason,” he continued, “the great microscope of the environmental community has decided on the plastic-bag issue and decided, O.K., it’s going to be our symbol.”

Yep. And with any luck, plastic bottles will be next.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Loose bulk spices in NYC?

I emptied a container of cinnamon last night. The jar is #5 plastic, recyclable through Gimme 5. The lid can be taken to Aveda. It leaves me with a larger glass jar of cinnamon that can be refilled when empty.

Do you know of good sources for loose bulk spices in NYC? Porto Rico Importing has a few things (including cinnamon), but from what I recall the selection is limited. The bulk section at Fairway, the best bulk section I've come across in NYC, does not have spices. I haven't been in Kalustayan's recently. Kalustayan's is the spice mecca of NYC. I don't recall seeing loose spices there, but it is worth checking. Chinatown probably has sources as well.

Lose weight with Plastic!

Scientists at GI Dynamics have come up with a fantastic new technology-- the EndoBarrier, popularly known as the "stomach condom".

That's right, the same technology that starves sea turtles and birds, as well as cows in India can now be applied to humans!

The device is inserted endoscopically. Barbed wire-like rings adhere to a your intestinal wall and a plastic liner is furled out, lining a portion of your intestine.

Voila! Just like those starved turtles, birds and cattle, you too can eat all you want but get little nutritional value, and NOT GAIN WEIGHT. The unknown effects of the chemicals in the plastic lining your intestine are an added benefit!

The EndoBarrier™ is an investigational device. It is currently in clinical trials and is not yet commercially available.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fondue Dinner Report

Last night's fondue dinner for 6 was a success! Here's what we had:

Pre dinner snack: Valdosta pecans
Green Salad
Classic Fondue (Gruyere, Emmental)
Pesto Brie Fondue
Top Round Steak, broiled and sliced for dipping
Bread, cubed for dipping
Sliced apples & pears
Steamed broccoli, green beans & carrots
Fudge Walnut Brownies
Wine: 2 bottles white, one bottle red, one port

Out of this, there was some plastic:

- Bag that arrived with one bottle of wine (currently contains leftover bread- I am making bread pudding later)
- Bag that arrived with the pecan snack. It is re-sealable so I'll re-use it
- one plastic wine cork
- bag inside the box for the fondue forks; they were individually sealed so I can't re-use this bag
- bag inside the box for the bittersweet chocolate. WHY? I wish I'd peeked inside the box before purchasing- other chocolate comes wrapped in foil!

Considering the amount of food and drink purchased by both myself and guests, I think this isn't too bad. I'm not about to level a 'bring no plastic into my home' edict on guests. It is nice when they try, but I have a hard enough time keeping to the challenge myself, so I'm not expecting it of others.

Finding fancier cheeses without plastic is big for me. I had worried that it would be hard, and now I know it is really pretty easy. That is one good thing about living in NYC-- lots of butchers, cheesemongers and fishmongers, all willing to wrap your purchase in paper if you ask.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reducing plastic...because glass is PRETTY.

This picture is online at The New York Times, in a blog post about "A Week Without Shopping"-- a weeklong challenge on eGullet to live off the bounty already in your kitchen.

Sounds like a great project. But I'm more interested in the picture.

Just look at all those pretty glass jars, filled with bulk staple ingredients. Not a brand name in sight. Only one container made from plastic. And the jars aren't even all matchy-matchy-- they were acquired over time, for free. Now there is nothing wrong with buying matching glass containers-- I lust after a matched set of stackable glass refrigerator containers. What I'm saying is that these don't match and yet it all looks good together.

I hope my pantry looks like that one of these days.

This has nothing to do with saving the planet. I guess my point, if I have one, is that reducing plastic usage is also a quality of life issue.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cheese Accomplished, Take 2

On Friday I am having friends over for fondue- 2 different kinds! That meant some serious cheese purchases. This is only the 2nd time I've bought cheese since starting my reduced plastic pledge. It also meant getting a serious cheese grater (not exactly the one in the picture but close enough). For my recipes I need a pound of each:

Swiss Emmental

One fondue will combine the Emmental and Gruyere, and the other will be Brie with pesto. My first trip was to the cheese department at Fairway. The guy who helped me was really nice. Emmental could be sliced for me and wrapped in paper, but the softer Gruyere and Brie were pre-sliced and wrapped in plastic. He checked downstairs to see if there was anyone there to cut me fresh pieces without plastic wrap, but that staff had already left for the day. There was a bit of a comedic ballet as he handed my Emmental off to another guy to wrap-- it took several times explaining that I really did want him to put the price sticker right on the paper and hand it to me 'naked'- no bag, no plastic wrap. I was a little embarrased to cause a fuss, but luckily it wasn't very crowded and the guy seemed more confused than annoyed.

My next trip was downtown to Murrays Cheese Shop. They had no problem with my no plastic request. In fact, I didn't see plastic bags or wrap behind the counter. They placed my paper wrapped cheeses in a rustic wood box to carry to the checkout, and I only had to turn down the plastic shopping bag. Note: Murrays is not for the faint of pocketbook! At least not the cheeses I purchased.

I also purchased steak at Fairway, to be broiled, sliced and dipped in the fondue, along with bread, apples and crudite. It came wrapped in paper, and the Fairway butcher was OK with my request for no plastic bag.

MMMMM, cheese. I'm looking forward to Friday!

Monday, February 16, 2009


One area where I haven't given up plastic is for taking out the trash. Right now we use shopping bags to line the kitchen can, for wet non-compostable waste. We don't use liner bags in the bedrooms or bathroom unless one of us is sick. We empty those cans into the kitchen bag to take it out. We recycle and compost, so there isn't a lot of trash.

Eventually our supply of bags may run out. I can probably get more from friends or Freecycle after that. Occasionally one of us will bring home a paper bag from a store; I generally use those to take out loose paper recycling.

We could just put the waste in our bin and empty it into the larger bin outside, foregoing any plastic bag, but I have a couple reasons why we don't. One, we eat fish and meat, which can't be put in the compost. Sometimes there is waste from that, and having it in the bin with no bag would mean cleaning and sanitizing it frequently- requiring extra water and (mostly) labor. I claim laziness here.

The other reason is we live in an apartment building. I worry that I would get reprimanded by neighbors or the landlord for not using a bag. The outside cans fill up fast- I can place a bag of trash on top, but can only empty loose trash into them when they aren't full. Around my neighborhood there is often trash in the gutters and on the sidewalk that got loose from spending time on the curb, and the sight makes me wary of putting out trash that isn't secured in a bag.

Is there an option I am missing? Is it possible to avoid plastic trash bags as an apartment dweller?