Kansha: Appreciation, or, F— You, Fossil Fuels

Kimchi.

Fermentation is really, really in right now. It’s hard to gauge how much of this is due to the mere movement of trends throughout the culinary consumer zeitgeist, and how much of it will stick around and be absorbed into an American way of life that will persist for years to come.

I, like our ancestors before us, came into fermentation as a strategy because I’m a cheap-ass.

My husband likes soda; soda is expensive; who says I can’t make my own soda? If I can make my own tonkatsu ramen, surely I can make my own soda.

My several attempts at getting a ginger bug started didn’t amount to much, but the logic was sound, and moreover, I wound up discovering a whole world out there of fermented, probiotic, and shelf-stable food that once stocked the larders of peasant households the world over. (And if it’s one thing peasants and I have in common, it’s a lack of money.) My second foray into home fermentation was kimchi, something I learned to love (and live off) in college, thanks to some Korean roommates. It was wildly successful. After that, I was a fermenting machine. Well, as much as I had the time, energy, and counter space for.

For me, fermentation isn’t about being culinarily impressive – though it often is – but rather more about being less reliant on my refrigerator.

Almost everything I do with food now I try to contextualize in our vast, sprawling, largely invisible web of fossil fuel usage. How much energy goes into making my condiments? My alcohol? How much energy goes into keeping my produce fresh? How much energy goes into making a salad?

I bought myself a used copy of Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions for my birthday recently. Not only did it immediately find itself in heavy rotation in my small cookbook collection, but it will have a place in the kitchen, I believe, for the rest of my life. The premise of the book is basically how to cook frugally and mindfully the Japanese way. The lengthy appendices talk about how to reuse water used to cook noodles or rinse rice (make a sipping broth with leftover sauce), how to use every single part of a daikon in the same way that the subsistence hunter uses every single part of a kill. In the pickles section, there’s also a few pages dedicated to the Japanese nuka pot, a pot of pickling paste made from rice bran, beer, and vegetable scraps that is maintained not unlike a sourdough starter.

Eventually, the husband and I want to leave the city. We want to leave the grid behind; the nine-to-fives, the endless hedonic treadmill of bills and debt, the noise and light pollution, the carbon-heavy, digitized lifestyles that every single person I know claims to depend on for sanity and survival. We want to remove the countless middlemen between us and that which sustains: the earth, the plants, the animals, and the quality relationships with other people that made most pre-industrial cultures worth fighting for in the face of enclosure, capitalism, and colonialist greed. (No really: most peasants through history had to be forced off their land and into the cities at sword or gunpoint.)

And even though that goal will be years in the making, we’re doing all the mental prep work we can. Right now, that means taking a long, hard look at the refrigerator. If we break down what a refrigerator is and what it does, its workings becomes less mysterious and the prospect of going without one less terrifying.

So what is a refrigerator? A refrigerator is a heavily-insulated box that plugs into the wall which makes food cold so it lasts longer, basically. Or, to put it a slightly different way: a method of food preservation that depends entirely on unsustainable energy* and dangerous chemicals to function. Once you frame it in those terms, it suddenly becomes just one in a variety of methods of preserving the harvest. And when that happens, why, again, are we collectively choosing the most expensive, most environmentally suicidal option?

That’s where kansha and fermentation come in. The two seem to go hand in hand, really – if you have a deep love and appreciation for the bounty of the earth, then frugality should follow, no? Kansha the book is full of tricks on not only preventing food from winding up in the garbage, but from the compost bin too, even. Obviously, the recipes are Japanese in origin, but many of the ingredients, from cabbages to root vegetables, fresh greens to foraged mushrooms, are staples across much of the temperate world, and the author’s careful consideration of the daikon could be applied to almost any sort of root vegetable.

Nuka pots, if diligently kept, can last for decades, even generations. They are a common sight in many Japanese kitchens, and where food scraps that Americans would have no second thought about throwing away are given another lease on life in the form of a crisp, delicious pickle.

Nuka, the Japanese word for rice bran, needn’t be made with the stuff – I hear that wheat bran works just as well, and only needs a little tweaking in how its used. I plan on starting a nuka pot myself in the next few days, as I explore the household feasibility of fermentation as a viable alternative to refrigeration, and as I get my taste buds used to the slow introduction of more and more fermented foods in my diet. (Because someday, pickled vegetables may be the only vegetable I can eat for a good chunk of the year. I’m learning to be OK with this in practice.)

S in addition to kimchi, my list of successful ferments are steadily growing, and I’m getting better at sussing out the particulars of each kind, its strengths and weaknesses, the culinary niche that it might fill in my diet. Here’s what has stuck so far, or will absolutely need to stick before we pack up and head out, like some kind of parallel universe, anti-matter Beverly Hillbilles:

Kimchi

I love the taste of kimchi. It’s tangy, spicy, crunchy, and fantastic on a bed of warm rice. It’s also dirt cheap to make and almost impossible to screw up. (Seriously, I don’t know why anyone buys the stuff. It’s as absurd to me as buying water.) My latest batch I made with gochujang paste instead of chili flakes, because it’s all I had on-hand, but it worked really well all the same. I also replace the shrimp paste with miso in my batches, being vegetarian and all. As for its versatility, there are as many kinds of kimchi as there are vegetables in Asia – this is good news for those of us who might be growing things other than napa cabbage.

Sourdough

I’m still not great at making bread from a sourdough starter, but maybe that’s because I’ve only tried with stone-ground wheat. I can make bread that tastes good and very edible, but it’s dense. The starter, though, is also absurdly easy to cultivate, and is edible at just about every stage of the fermentation cycle.

Kvass/Sima/Cider

I don’t know what to call this stuff, to be quite honest. I’ve got a post written up about it, but the jist is this: it’s chopped fruit mixed with sugar, warm water, and whatever herbs/spices you like to taste, and left to get fizzy on the counter for a few days. It’s a little like the Finnish sima, a fermented lemonade, minus the added yeast… and all those other complicated steps.

Mead

Yes, I’m a burgeoning mead-brewer now. I’m going by a sort of eyeballed, wild-yeasted recipe that an acquaintance of mine wrote about a few months back, and it’s also easy as dirt so long as you know how to adequately sanitize your equipment. It’s one part unpasteurized (preferably local) honey to three to four parts warm water. Add fruit, aromatics, or what have you, and let sit at room temperature for a few months until the mead turns clear, making sure that your containers of choice don’t explode. Taste, rack, enjoy. It’s not cheap alcohol, but boy does it mean more when you make it yourself. And it tastes damn good too.

Nukazuke

If the magic happens in a nuka pot, then the magical result is the nukazuke, rice bran pickles. Again, I haven’t actually done this yet, but I see this being a seamless and delicious addition to my fermentation scheme, and a really good way to prevent otherwise good food scraps from winding up in the compost pail. (This is good for those of us who have a jar in the freezer specially dedicated to broth scraps, and don’t know what to do with the leftovers from cruciferous vegetables, spines from leafy greens, or other miscellany. Pickle ’em!)

Vinegar

I have also not made a vinegar yet, though I intend do as soon as I amass enough apple scraps or wine remnants. From what I’ve read, it sounds similar to making my fizzy fruit drink, except you let it turn alcoholic, then let the alcohol turn into acid. By all accounts this is also ridiculously easy.

Miso

Homemade miso paste is actually really easy to make, it just takes a long time – at least a year – and requires inoculation with a special culture found in a product called koji, where the fungus aspergillus oryzae is grown on specially prepared rice. The inoculated rice is a required ingredient in miso of any type (I’ve seen miso made from all manner of beans, not just soy, as well as barley, which is another traditional variety), though it too doesn’t take too much effort to make if you’ve got koji spores on hand, and the dried koji lasts a long time if stored properly. I love miso and use it in a lot of my cooking, so I can see myself doing a big koji/miso-making spree once a year, maybe entirely out of barley if it’s easy to grow.

With the help of a root cellar, a smoke house, and icy winters, I think we just might pull it off. One caveat: we will probably have a small deep freezer for helping store larger amounts of meat and processed game, which we will likely be able to get away with turning off when outside temperatures are below freezing.

We’ve already committed ourselves to living in a ‘dry’ house – that is, a house without plumbing – thanks to Berkey water filters, and strategically-located cisterns around/under the house and their associated hand pumps, and compost toilets. We’ve already committed ourselves to living with as little electricity as we can get away with also: a DC solar arrangement for a laptop or two, record player,  and occasional light bulb, perhaps. But it definitely won’t be enough to run appliances, let alone one that needs power 24/7.

Yeah, it’s going to be a huge change. But that’s why we’re starting here and now, with the concept of kansha. 

From the book’s dust jacket:

The celebration of Japan’s vegan and vegetarian traditions begins with kansha – appreciation – an expression of gratitude for nature’s gifts and the efforts and ingenuity of those who transform nature’s bounty into marvelous food. The spirit of kansha, deeply rooted in Buddhist philosophy and practice, encourages all cooks to prepare nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying meals that avoid waste, conserve energy, and preserve our natural resources.

It’s not about saying “no” to the comforts of a modern Western home. It’s about saying “yes” to a different way of doing things, because if you don’t welcome it with open arms and appreciate it for what it has to offer, then… well, you’re up shit creek, aren’t you? Nothing worse than changing your life for all the wrong reasons.


*All energy that relies in any way on electricity at any point during it or its components’ sourcing, manufacture, use, upkeep, and disposal, is unsustainable in my book. My book is very strict.

“Animism At The Dinner Table”

As an animist and vegetarian, the subject of food is near and dear to my heart. I can’t stand utilitarian arguments when it comes to food, because plants and ecosystems often get left out of the conversation altogether. How many times have I heard vegans laugh at people who ask about the rights of plants? That’s not a facetious question to me, and it seems that vegans who brush it off as quackery don’t have a very good grasp of what they’re actually fighting for. Talk about speciesism!

Sarah Anne Lawless is an animist who I respect very much, and this is a long blog post from her about how to eat like an animist – that is, eat like someone who believes that everything is alive and intelligent in its own way.

When the world was awash with animism, the people viewed food as sacred and precious. Nature was God and thus food was God. Little berry deities on the bush, succulent root deities in the earth, sweet deity blood as sap running from a tapped birch tree. Animals were deities too, presided over by the wild and fearsome forest gods who could curse or kill those who did not treat their realm with respect. Ancient hunters would ask permission of these wild gods before hunting their deer or boar. Ancient gatherers would ask permission before picking berries or harvesting the soft edible cambium or underbark of trees. All that is left of these beliefs and practices is folklore and prayers from both the Old and New Worlds, collected as anecdotes rather than as a body of living lore.

[…]

The more you do this the more you may start to notice that the natural world responds back. Maybe the forest will reveal its best berry picking and root-digging spots to you after your good treatment of its denizens, its resources. Maybe it will get less and less hard to find deer during hunting season after you’ve consistently asked for permission from the forest. Maybe you’ll end up with more fish from the river than you’ve ever caught before after years of giving it simple offerings, asking respectfully for a good catch, and cleaning up any garbage you find. If you dwell in a more sub/urban area, maybe it will be simply that your vegetable garden flourishes as never before and your chickens lay the best eggs after being treated with love. Perhaps you’ll find an incredibly productive blackberry bush in an unexpected corner of the city away from pollution that yields its fruits to you scratch-free. Whatever they may be, the rewards for your philosophy in action will become apparent and very much real.

[…]

Many people’s solution is to become vegetarian or vegan to stop participating in the industrial machine that treats animals this way. We laud ourselves for being so ethical, but in doing so we can easily forget that plants deserve fair treatment just as much as animals do. We forget to think about the forests and wetlands destroyed so they can be replaced by fields of organic carrot and soy bean monocrops in California.

We forget to think about the environmental footprint of importing fruits, vegetables, and grains over long distances. We forget to think about if our produce has been genetically modified or altered or covered in herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides and what the health effects of such things are upon the land, its waters, the animals that live on it, the bees who pollinate it, the farmers that tend it, and our children who eat its fruits. We forget to think about if the produce was commercially grown on land raped of its nutrients and filled with fertilizers to compensate, leaching into the water supply and contaminating it for animals and humans. Yes, even organic agriculture is guilty of this.

We forget to think about if our produce was grown with long-term sustainability in mind. Farmers,  animals, and whole ecosystems are dying so we can eat organic soybeans and corn we don’t actually need. How many people have to die and how much more research has to be done before we abandon the Frankenstein that is modern commercial agriculture? Even organic agriculture is not sustainable, not the way we are currently practicing it. How many studies must be done proving plants are intelligent and can feel pain before we start to treat them better and stop splicing their genes and covering them in toxic chemicals? How long until we realize maybe we can’t always do this better than Nature naturally does?

Read the rest at her website. Please do, it’s a very humble, inspiring read!

Baking Substitutions

The hubs and I made a trip to Costco a couple weekends ago and treated ourselves to a box of brownie mix – it came with six bags of mix! No, not particularly zero waste, but it should last us a long time.

A few days ago I visited our local market and saw they had bags of bruised apples on their “day old” produce shelf – everything there is a dollar and would otherwise get thrown out – so I grabbed some, hoping that I’d get a chance to make some kind of baked dessert before they headed too far south. I didn’t get a chance to do that, so I whipped out my manual puree grinder and made some applesauce out of what was left. It wasn’t exactly great… kinda starchy. So I got worried. What the heck would I do with it?

And then it occurred to me. Brownies! Apparently you can substitute applesauce for not just eggs in a recipe, but oil too. So I did, and it got me to thinking about all the other “simple food” substitutions there are out there. Because lets face it, aside from eggs, a lot of what we need substitutes for in recipes tend to be the highly specialized, processed ingredients like oil, butter, or certain flours or starches. While these things are indeed staples, they are far from simple foods – a lot of energy goes into making even the plainest bottle of olive oil, for instance. Or bag of all-purpose flour. Their ubiquity betrays their labor and energy intensive processing to get from plant to shelf. (So all things considered, a half-dozen local apples in a plastic bag is less wasteful than even bulk oil when you take processing and manufacturing into consideration.)

Anyways, enough of that. What other interesting baking substitutions are there? Well, poking around the internet, here are a few I’ve run into:

  • 1/3 c. applesauce for 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds (FRESHLY ground) in 1/4 c. warm water for 1 egg
  • 1 ripe mashed banana for 1 egg
  • equal amounts applesauce for oil called for
  • juice for oil called for
  • mashed (not refried) beans for oil called for (match bean color to the recipe!)
  • avocado for cheese or butter
  • mashed sweet potato for cheese or butter

Got any other wacky ideas, readers?

Lunch

San Franciscano beans from Rancho Gordo and some sauteed Swiss chard.

My stomach hasn’t been all that happy lately, what with the proliferation of gross BBQ/picnic food available practically every weekend during the summer. It seems that I can’t actually go to a party and be able to eat most of what’s served, anymore. I’m really trying to take my health problems seriously this year, but I’m being thwarted at every damn turn by friends and family alike. First of all, I’m vegetarian, so that eliminates at least half of what I can eat anywhere I go. Add to that my GI upsets and whoops, there goes just about everything else. If it’s not meat, it’s usually loaded with cheese, cream, processed fats and oils, sugar, or a mix of any of the above in the form of greasy sauces that’ll have me running to the bathroom in no time.

The carbs and sugars I’m trying to cut down because it’s terrible for my non-diabetic hypoglycemia, and the rest I have to limit because of IBS/GERD.

What this means is that I can have a couple bites of party food and… that’s about it. Yesterday (July 4th, for those whom it’s not on the radar – I wish it weren’t on mine!) I bit the bullet and brought not only my own dinner, a vegetarian sandwich, but also my own alcohol: homemade sangria without added sweetener. Yep, I’m limiting beer too. I felt like a party pooper, but it’s just something I’m going to have to suck up and get over.

So I just haven’t been feeling right lately, is what most of this is about, and so I’m trying to do something about it. Gonna try and apply KISS to my food for a while: “Keep It Simple, Stupid”!

For this I used my current favorite bean, San Franciscanos. They’re an heirloom bean from Mexico, and to die for. They’re pinto-sized, but much richer in flavor and hold their shape when cooked, which makes them great for salads. To prepare them, soak for at least 12 hours first. (This is how you avoid getting gas, and prolonged soaking also breaks down the chemicals in the bean that prevent nutrient absorption.) Then with plenty of water, bring to a boil in a pot with some onion, crushed garlic, a bay leaf, and plenty of salt, before reducing to a simmer for an hour or two until tender and the skins crack when blown on.

I served them with some sauteed Swiss chard, cooked in a little avocado and olive oils, minced garlic, and salt.

A small helping of wild rice would have been a great addition, but I don’t have any on hand. Either way, this was very filling, nutritious, and for the first time in a while, I don’t feel bloated and tired from eating!

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Bernie Fade Begins – Counterpunch
Counterpunch on late-stage Bern symptoms.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist – Medium.com
An essay on just how the internet – mostly social media – has learned to manipulate you into being little more than a gambling addict. (Which is why I’m disappointed that the Zero Waste Bloggers Network communicates almost entirely over Facebook, which I am very happy to not be using anymore. A forum would have been better, in my opinion.)

Are Quinoa, Chia Seeds, and Other “Superfoods” a Scam? – Mother Jones
A short piece on why we pay attention when shit gets the “superfood” label… despite cheaper, more local, and more common vegetables having the same health benefits.

Unnecessariat – More Crows Than Eagles
There’s an epidemic going on in the US that nobody’s talking about: suicide and drug overdose rates have skyrocketed in rural America. Anne Amnesia, the blog’s author, has coined them the Unnecessariat, a demographic of the white, working-class poor for whom there are no activist organizations, no talking points, and not even the murmurings of a national dialogue. We’ve let them fall through the cracks, and while Trump pays lip service to these underserved populations, he is just as likely to cast them aside after he has their vote.

Solar Devices Industrial Infrastructure – Sunweb
A lengthy and very informative post on why solar is not green, is not sustainable, and is not likely to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The primary reason? Every step of manufacturing and maintenance requires fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-powered industrial infrastructure, and there is no evidence that a solar panel can be made without the use of fossil fuels at any point during the manufacturing process (including in the manufacturing of related tools and equipment), and that if it can, that the energy ROI is above zero.

Leaked figures show spike in palm oil use for biodiesel in Europe – The Guardian
“Steep rise between 2010 and 2014 shows link between EU’s renewable energy mandate and deforestation in south-east Asia, say campaigners”

Tofu Scramble, Two Ways

Inspired by the long-since updated Hot Knives blog, run by two fellow Angelinos who wrote one of my top vegetarian/vegan cookbooks (seriously – between Lust For Leaf and Miyoko Schinner’s Vegan Pantry, I’m not wanting for another vegan cookbook), I give you yet another tofu scramble recipe!

A little background: I’m not particularly fond of scrambled eggs. If I make or order eggs at all, it’s usually over easy or poached or fried. Either way, a runny yolk is important, otherwise I don’t even bother. The hubs doesn’t really eat anything other than scrambled eggs, though, so when we’re together, that’s what I suck up and make. (Boooring.) I wasn’t really a big fan of tofu scramble either. I’d tried making it a few times and failed miserably, and besides, what was the point in trying to recreate an egg experience I didn’t particularly like anyways? So recently, I happened to come into a four-pack of firm tofu from Costco, so I decided to hunker down and figure it out. And I did! And I am never sacrificing an egg to such a sub-par dish ever again! Because this puts the original to shame.

Lumberjack Scramble Ingredients

  • 1 package firm tofu, drained
  • Gimme Lean or other breakfast sausage (pre-cook if actual meat)
  • diced onion or shallot
  • minced garlic
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 c. soy sauce, liquid aminos, etc.
  • fresh or dried parsley
  • cracked pepper
  • oil
  • maple syrup (optional)

Soyrizo con Tofu Ingredients

  • 1 package firm tofu, drained
  • prepared or homemade soyrizo
  • cheese of some sort
  • diced onion
  • minced garlic
  • quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp – 1/4 c. soy sauce, liquid aminos, etc.
  • fresh or dried parsley
  • cracked pepper
  • oil
  • hot sauce (optional)
  • cilantro (optional)

There’s really no set recipe for either of these – use what you have on hand, and however much you want. Just don’t skimp too much: remember that we’re not marinating the tofu, so be more afraid of tasteless tofu than over-seasoning!

For both, put some oil in your pan over medium heat. Toss in garlic and onion and let it get fragrant. Or a little crispy. Whatever! Now get your tofu and squeeze chunks of it through your fingers to make nice curd clumps, doing the whole package this way. Cover this with a thorough dusting of nooch (not all of it, you’ll be doing this at least three or four times total), and fresh cracked pepper. Let this sit in the pan, sizzling, for a few minutes; let’s say 5. Stir to incorporate the seasoning, then dust again with more nooch and pepper. This time, add a couple tablespoons of soy sauce and your parsley (or equivalents) and let sit again for a few minutes.

For the lumberjack:

Prep your sausage: cutting it into small pieces with solid types, or forming into balls with the Gimme Lean. Give the tofu a stir, layer on more nooch, pepper, and soy sauce. Give it a few more minutes, then add in the rest of your ingredients (except the syrup). Clear some space in the pan if it’s normal sausage to let it brown a little. If it’s Gimme Lean, you can toss the balls right in and let them cook with the tofu. Once it passes the taste test, it’s ready to serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and a side of buttered toast!

For the soyrizo:

Prep your tomatoes and cheese (grate it, shave it, who cares). Give the tofu a stir, layer on more nooch, pepper, and soy sauce. Give it a few more minutes, then add in the rest of your ingredients. Clear some space in the pan for the soyrizo, and let it cook for a few on its own before incorporating it into the rest of the tofu. You want it a little crispy if possible. Throw on your cheese and let it get melty. Once it passes the taste test, it’s ready to serve with tortillas, some salsa or hot sauce, and a sprinkle of cilantro!

 

Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

Way back when, early last year, we thought for sure this company was going to respond seriously to the challenge posed by the fun-yet-serious viral campaign highlighting its environmental atrocities. Many people we know and love use these machines or machines like them. These friends are generally serious devotees of the capsule machines due to their convenience. […]

via Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

While it’s easy to elevate the K-cup into this symbol of everything people like me like to hate, the Keurig is merely a symptom of a much bigger, deeper problem: the glorification of convenience at the expense of literally everything else.

The consolidation of local specialty stores into huge, “big box” multinationals.

The growing hostility towards use of the general internet browser, to be replaced with tightly controlled and corporate app environments.

The mass apathy and acceptance of corporate surveillance for the sake of being sold “better” products, or government surveillance for the sake of leading “safer” lives.

The advent and wide adoption of the disposable utensil that doesn’t need washing, to coincide with the mass movement away from reusable food packaging. Or hell, food that doesn’t even need you to prepare it.

Fertilizing the hell out of depleted land (with fertilizer made from fossil fuels) instead of nursing what little topsoil we have left, because restorative farming isn’t compatible with monocropping enterprises. Monocropping enterprises that allow meat industry CAFOs to function, by the way, and whose ethanol allows us to continue to squeeze just that much more energy from our every gallon of gasoline…

Keurig is an easy scapegoat, but making the K-cup recyclable or even compostable is still far from a sufficient solution.

People Will Not Buy Zero Waste Until They Can Afford It

For those of you who’ve gone on the record and said that going zero waste “isn’t expensive”, I want you to answer two questions:

How much money does your household make in a year, and where do you live?

The answers you give can mean the difference between bamboo and plastic toothbrushes; shrink-wrapped non-organic produce and farmer’s markets; municipal recycling programs or none at all. The answers you give can mean the difference between access to a grocery store period… or being awash in a gray sea of convenience stores.

accessinfographic595 I make well-below the poverty line in annual wages (despite being a college graduate who is overqualified to work in most basic positions), and if I didn’t have family willing to take me in, or a spouse to support me (which he can do in a very limited capacity until I am a legal resident of Canada), I would be homeless. If this makes you uncomfortable, good. I say this to remind you that there are millions of people in my shoes, and worse – we are not merely statistics for you to prattle off at university lectures or on message boards. We are real people, and surprisingly enough, many of us are very concerned about the environment, but our lack of stable work or housing means that most conventional – by US standards – activism is beyond our reach. (And for me as an anarchist, I’m not interested in most reformist activism anyway. I want to see entire institutions burned to the ground, and buying $30 water bottles won’t accomplish that.)

The thing is this: when we talk about zero waste being cheap, who is it cheap for? And where? When we talk about it “saving” the environment (even though personal lifestyles have never won a single victory in the history of eco-justice movements), who’s environment will it be saving?

Part of the reason – actually, the main reason – that I’m pro-littering when it comes to areas dominated by middle- and upper-class people, no matter what region or country, is because this undermines the NIMBYism inherent to much of the mainstream conception of what it means to be environmentally-friendly and “sustainable”. It undermines the stock we put in the very notion of lifestyles at all – for some reason, we have it in our heads that making the right purchases and taking pretty pictures for our blogs is all we’ll ever need to do to reverse climate change. When we blow this particular category of action out of proportion, then of of course caving in and buying a bag of potato chips or cuppa joe in a paper cup feels like you’ve let down the entire world.

In my piece on littering, I recall the history of just how the world’s actual polluters got us to start blaming ourselves for their messes:

…Keep America Beautiful, obviously the first and most influential of the anti-littering movements, was founded by a group of key players in the beverage industry, who were beginning to see bad publicity when their products were turning up on roadsides and in ditches all over the country. […]

So like any good capitalist, these businessmen sought to hand the responsibility over to the unwitting public, rather than deal with the repercussions of their manufacturing practices, or – god forbid – face government regulation. According to them, “People start pollution, [and] people can stop it.”

Zero wasters who want to see an end to the convenience store and what it represents have their hearts in the right place… for the most part. But they fail to perceive and understand the world beyond their own backyard, from the comfort of their chic, urban apartments or mortgaged single-family homes. When I first read Zero Waste Home, there was no mention of who the book was for – though the cover could have told me – and yet, its content assumed that I had access to a Whole Foods, and access to the disposable income to shop there. Among other things.

The ironic part is that I do – and that’s precisely because I don’t make enough to pay rent. If I did, I’d have no money to buy any food with!

To be quite blunt, attempting to do some zero waste shopping here in Vancouver the other day is what spurred this post. I wanted to buy some oil, so I looked at the prices at the two stores I know sell bulk EVOO, and they were phenomenal. $12-15 per 100ml is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a staple that gets used on a near-daily basis. Or how about peanut butter: I could pay $6 for a little over a cup of peanut butter from the grinding machine at WF, or I could buy four times that much for $8 from a local co-op even though it comes in a plastic jar.

It’s a no brainer.

East Vancouver is not a food desert by any means, and for that I’m grateful. But Glendora, the California city where I’ll be living with my mother for a little while, is. There is no walking in Glendora, no curbside pick-up for recyclables, the transit options are pitiful, there is no infrastructure to support bicycling, and the nearest farmer’s market is in the next town over. I will need to get into a car to buy groceries, or I don’t buy groceries at all.

Out of sheer necessity, my zero waste efforts will be curtailed tremendously. I will be throwing recyclable materials in the garbage. But most importantly, I will buy food where it is feasible for me to do so. If that means Stater Bros., then unfortunately, Stater Bros. it is. At least I’m not stuck trying to feed a family from the local 7-Eleven.

What would happen if, every time we were tempted to denigrate ourselves over a single soda can or candy wrapper, we instead decided to remember that millions of people in the US (and Canada) have no choice in the matter? That, instead, we started talking about ways to put an end to food deserts and poverty-stricken communities’ reliance on convenience stores? Or talked about how ridiculous it is that we’re willing to pay $7-8/lb for salad bar cherry tomatoes or hummus because the plastic clamshell or tub would weigh too heavily on our conscience? (To say nothing of how a clamshell of tomatoes gets a more visceral reaction than, for instance, US foreign policy.)

I’m sure some of you are wondering why it is I continue to blog under the term “zero waste”.

Honestly, this is because I still believe in it – nature has no concept of waste, and neither should we. It is the only mark of a truly holistic community of organisms and resources. Just because I believe that most other lifestylers are misguided in their understanding and intentions, I’m not going to give it up.

To me, zero waste is about habits. It’s about fighting capitalist culture through the language of garbage, by-product, and so-called “innovation”. It’s a way to foster healthy boundaries in my work and relationships. It’s a way for me to understand myself as a steward, not an owner, of things. It’s a way to reject the encroachment of consumerism and voyeur culture on my life. It’s a way for me to reject the notion of disposability in every facet of life and society: no person is disposable, no thought or feeling is (or ought to be) disposable, no action is disposable. There is no throwing anything “away”, whether opinions or onion skins, and we need systems – cultural habits – in place to ease their decomposition and re-use.

If zero waste means little more than a hoard of $15 canning jars and an Apartment Therapy house tour, I’m going to go on record to say that you’ve got your priorities all mixed up.

Furikake Seasoning

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I’ve seen furikake get called ‘the salt and pepper of Japan’, and back in college I learned why. The stuff is delicious and I can’t get enough of it. Asian supermarkets will often carry an amazing and colorful assortment of furikake jars, but finding one with certain ingredients can be frustrating, especially as a vegetarian or vegan. Most varieties contain bonito, shrimp flakes, or some other dehydrated seafood, and sometimes include less desirable ingredients like MSG or anti-caking agents, and they all come with silica packets. Not to mention that the jars, which are small, cost a pretty penny in spite of the simple ingredients.

So what was I to do?

Duh, make my own.

After doing a little research, I’ve hammered out a basic formula that I liked:

Furikake

  • 2 parts dried nori
  • 1 part dried wakame
  • 1 part dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 part sesame seeds (black, white, or both)
  • sea salt, to taste (note that this stuff is meant to be really salty)

In a blender or food processor, process the wakame, shiitake, and salt until they’re a coarse powder. (This will take a while – you may need to use a spice grinder for the wakame.) Add nori in torn pieces and pulse until those are small flakes. Combine with sesame seeds in an airtight container and keep in the fridge. Sprinkle liberally on EVERYTHING. Especially rice balls filled with small dollops of miso-walnut paste.

Now, this is far from being a hard and fast recipe. You can use almost any kind of dried seaweed you’d like, including used kombu. Maybe try this with smoked or black salt – black salt might make it taste a little bit like there are dehydrated pieces of egg in there, which a lot of commercial furikake does have. Try pepper flakes for a spicy kick, or something totally different like Chinese Five Spice. Some recipes even call for a small sprinkle of sugar, but I’m all about savory when it comes to this stuff.

But basically, the moral of the story is: go nuts.

Is it ZW? No, don’t be silly. Unless you’re lucky enough to live someplace where you can get dried sea vegetables in bulk, which I doubt you are. Bags of dried sea veggies last a pretty long-ass time with occasional use, though, and can be put to many more uses than furikake alone. I usually only need to stock up on this stuff once or twice a year. (Which is good for my wallet, too.)

Happy sprinkling!

A Few Notes on Oil Pulling, A Few Notes on Oil

Calicut, Kerela

Coconuts being laid out to dry before processing in Kerala. Flickr

If you’re the kind of person to read this blog, you probably know what oil pulling is. But in the off-chance that one of you doesn’t: oil pulling is when you use coconut oil (or some other oil, but coconut is by far the best) like mouthwash. Except you do it for 15-20 minutes instead of 2, and you needn’t do it vigorously at all. Just kind of… move it around between your teeth.

I’ve started doing it this week, and I really like the way my teeth and mouth feel afterwards, but one of the thing that other oil pullers claim just has me face-palming, now that I’ve seen the phenomenon for myself: that the oil/spit wad turns whitish by the time you’re done, and this is because of the “toxins” it’s pulled out.

I gotta say, this is complete bullcrap. Coconut oil is an oil, and if you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you’ll be well familiar with another way in which oils are frequently turned white: emulsification. So no, this isn’t a visible sign that you’re detoxing – there’s no proof that this happens when you oil pull anyways – you are literally just making an oil and spit aioli in your mouth. So no need to fret if you accidentally swallow some, no need to start gagging because the idea of reintroducing those “toxins” freaks you out. It just ain’t happening.

The other thing I wanted to note, if someone reading this is interested in trying it out, is be sure the oil is melted before you use it. The texture of a huge wad of cold coconut oil in your mouth is just so wrong that I did gag a couple times with my first go at it. So what I did was scoop some into a metal spoon, hold the spoon over one of the burners on my stove for a few seconds so that the oil melted, and then let the spoon cool down a little bit before taking a gulp.

Want to try it? Here’s how to do it and some of the (empirically proven) benefits: Should You Try Oil Pulling?

A worker and oil-extracting machine in Sri Lanka. Flickr

And a note on coconut oil in general: one of the ways that the oil is produced is with the use of solvents, namely a chemical called hexane: “Conventional coconut oil processors use hexane as a solvent to extract up to 10% more oil than produced with just rotary mills and expellers.” There’s little to fear on the consumer end, though, as hexane evaporates quickly, and it mostly only poses a problem if inhaled. But, from a worker standpoint, working with hexane can be dangerous and result in poisoning. But it’s not just coconut oil that this stuff is used for: “n-Hexane is also used as a solvent in the extraction of oil from seeds (soybean, cottonseed, flaxseed, safflower seed, and others). It is sometimes used as a denaturant for alcohol, and as a cleaning agent in the textile, furniture, and leather industries. It is slowly being replaced with other less toxic solvents.” (Both of these quotes are from Wikipedia.)

From Nutrition.About.com:

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require foods to be tested for hexane levels — probably because the chances you’ll experience any meaningful exposure from food is highly unlikely. You’re much more likely to be exposed to hexane through gasoline fumes, quick-drying glue and cleaning solvents than you are from any amount of foods you eat.

Hexane is a solvent made from crude oil. In the food industry, hexane is used to extract the vegetable oil from plant seeds such as canola, soybeans, sunflowers and corn because it is more efficient and less expensive than squeezing out the oil with presses.

The hexane is removed from the oil before it is bottled and sold, but there is always the potential for some hexane residue to be left in the oil.

The FDA hasn’t established a limit on hexane residues in foods, however it has set limits for residue levels in hops and fish meal protein. Since it isn’t something foods are usually tested for, it’s difficult to know how just how much hexane might be in any foods you buy.

It’s also unknown how much foodborne hexane might cause a problem, although current research indicates it would take magnitudes more hexane than what is possibly found in the diet.

[…]

Hexane is toxic and exposure to large amounts of it can cause neurological damage. This mostly occurs when workers are exposed to hexane at oil refineries and other places where hexane may escape into the air. Current toxicology research focuses on industrial and airborne exposure to hexane, so it’s not clear how much hexane exposure from foods would be dangerous.

The EPA has estimated that consuming less than 0.06 milligrams hexane per kilogram of body weight is probably safe. For a 200-pound person (97.7 kilograms), that would be about 5.8 milligrams per day. A typical diet, even one with a lot of hexane-extracted vegetable oil, would fall very far short of that. For example, the oil in the Swiss study with the most hexane contained 0.13 milligram hexane per kilogram of oil, so a 200-pound person would have to consume over 40 gallons of that oil to even come close to 5.8 milligrams hexane.

Is it difficult to avoid hexane? Most hexane exposure comes through the air, however if you wish to eliminate hexane residues from your diet, you can choose foods that are “100-percent organic” and oils that are expeller-pressed rather than solvent-extracted. Expeller pressing is not as efficient as hexane extraction so oils made this way are going to be more expensive. Keep in mind that labels that state the product is made with organic ingredients may still use ingredients that have been exposed to hexane.

So if you’re going to buy oils, definitely be sure to buy organic or expeller-pressed. Not only is it better for you, but it’s healthier for the workers who have to do all the back-breaking labor to produce those bottles of oil for us. Though if you’re worried more about your and your family’s exposure… well, honestly? I don’t see much of a point if you’vestill got a car that runs on oil. It’d be about as silly as an alcoholic giving up rye because of concerns about alcohol poisoning!

Or, interested in saying “screw it” to the whole production process? You can try making your hand-pressed oil at home with a few basic kitchen tools!