Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Peanut Butter

A friend of ours wondered out loud the other day if it was worth all the water it took to clean out peanut butter jars to recycle them. Would it be better to trash the jar and save the water and energy to heat the water? This is a tough question to answer. Water and energy are (in theory, at least) renewable, plastic (unless it's made from plant oils) is not.

You can reduce the water needed by using a good brush and some elbow grease. I also head that you can loosen the peanut butter by tossing it in the microwave briefly. I thought this sounded like a good idea, so I tried it out today. I thought the addition of a little water would prevent overheating.

I learned two things today. Don't put the jar in for 2 minutes or the plastic will start to melt and you'll have a big puddle of peanut-buttery water in your microwave. Also, make sure you get all the foil seal off of the rim first.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not just a back-seat driver

I heard a great quote about cars recently:

"The car is like your mother-in-law. You have to have [a] good relationship with her, but she cannot command your life. ... When the only woman in your life is your mother in law, you have a problem."

This is from Jaime Lerner's talk at TED 2007. If you haven't seen any TED talks, I recommend them. Here are some of my favorites. It's an annual conference that gives smart people a chance to talk about whatever they want. It's a bit smug and elitist, but they do a pretty good job of defining smart very loosely and getting some really interesting speakers. There are talks by folks you've heard of (Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, Frank Gehry, and more) and many you instantly want to know more about. Topics range from the environment, to education, to poverty, to the frontiers of science (the LHC, the ocean, space, medicine, ...), to entertainment.

From their about page:
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Insulating the attic

Originally uploaded by mandy&john
We foolishly failed to insulate the attic before last winter set in. We chose this weekend to try to fix that. We bought 22 bales of cellulose and rented a large heavy machine to blow it into the floor. Having hauled everything up to the attic, I noticed the instruction suggest leaving it outside and using the hose to get the insulation into the attic. Oops.

Ah well, what's done is done. So far I've got 2/3 of the fiber in and am nearly 3/4 done. We'll see how much less oil we use this year. It'll be interesting.

TV in the kitchen is paying off

Part of our plan to try to reduce unknown substances in our diet is to stop using canned beans. Since our one-year-old doesn't like chewing meat and he's allergic to eggs, he gets most of his protein from milk and beans. So going to dried beans means we can get organic beans for much less than canned conventional beans.

We'd always been wary of the extra work of dried beans, but since we've moved the TV into the kitchen, it's much easier to do the extra work necessary to avid prepared foods.
Mandy made our first batch of chili from dried beans tonight. It was the best batch yet. It actually didn't take any extra work since it simmers so long, we didn't have to do anything but put extra beer and water in.

We also made apple sauce this weekend from apples we picked. It was wonderful. So far, things are good in home-made food land.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Go open a window

It seems to be scary contaminant day. Another old podcast, this one from Scientific American, alerts us to the under-regulated horrors of scented products.

Basically, manufacturers are not required to disclose what they put in most products that aren't directly consumed, so they only list the nice things, like honeysuckle extract, and fail to mention the known carcinogens.

Force folks to take the long view...

Make them live longer!

I'm kind of back-logged on listening to podcasts, so this morning, it was the Nature podcast from August 28. It ended with an interview with aging researcher Judith Campisi. (Not that she is getting up there in years, you can't tell these things on the radio, rather that she studies aging.) It was an interesting but mostly unremarkable piece. She describer her work with nematodes well. Cool stuff if you like animal biology. She thinks there is promise, but still lots of snake oil. She ended with a line that caught my attention, though.

"I am also optimistic that if humans really have to live more with the consequences of their actions, we might not have some of the problems we have right now."

BPA, C-8, and phtalates, oh my

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been in the news again recently. There are also pthalates in PVC and many soft plastics and ammonium perfluorooctanoate from teflon. In our house, we stopped buying polycarbonate bottles years ago (before we moved to California) and use BPA free bottles for our kids. With the latest news cycle, though we realized that most canned foods are also lined with BPA containing materials.

It's a scary world out there right now. The biggest thing we can see to do is to limit the amount of prepared food we eat and remove the obvious toxins from our immediate environment. We've already dropped the hard plastic Nalgene and Avent bottles. Although both are starting to make non-BPA versions, I still feel more comfortable going back to the old polypropylene ones. They're not as pretty but pretty well tested. Most research labs store at least some things in polypro bottles. Someone would have noticed something by now. That's how BPA was recognized as a problem.

We are also going to try to limit canned food until we figure out how to tell which don't use BPA. Apparently it's banned in Canada. Maybe we'll make a monthly trip to Montreal to stock up. That gets at one of the problems we're facing. Last winter we decided to make do with canned veggies instead of fresh imported ones in an attempt to reduce our food-miles. Maybe we'll have to start canning our own stuff in glass jars with what's left of our free time.

100 mile diet for America!

In the not too distant past, energy conservation and renewable power sources were just the concern of tree huggers and "cocaine sniffing sierra club yuppies." I think it was 5 years ago, I first read something arguing that energy conservation should also be the concern of hawkish conservatives. This was the first time I saw the term "energy independence". Now, with the addition of religious groups who see humans as the stewards of God's creation, there is some momentum to take on climate change.

However, as I've complained before, global warming is just one of many bad things caused by unsustainable practices. The reckless burning of fossil fuels is just one of many bad things we are doing to the planet and ourselves in the name of short-term profit. There are very few regulations on what can be dumped into landfills and waste water. Nor are there enough controls on what goes into food and consumer goods. This is a problem both for the planet because chemicals and antibiotics that we are dumping both commercially and from our homes will do bad things to ecosystems. It's also bad for people, because there has been no testing for what these chemicals do to people in small doses. This is just one more of many things that is going to come down harder on those without the resources or education to speak up for themselves.

Anyway all this is why we decided earlier this week to try to reduce the amount of prepared and mass-produced food in our diet. It's not the 100 mile diet, but it's more small producers and locally grown stuff. Not long after we made this decision, it came out that something else was contaminated in China. While the tainted Chinese milk likely was not a terrorist act, it underscored to us just how easy it would be to sicken and kill a whole lot of people by putting something in the food supply. The chain is so long with mass produced food that it'd be pretty easy to do.

In addition to making me a little uneasy, it got me thinking that, like energy independence before it, food security will be the next formerly eco-friendly idea to get taken up by the right in the name of national security.