Q&A: Picnic Waste

  • June 28, 2011 5:03 pm

THE QUESTION

Dear Alexandra,

This summer I’ve been finding myself hosting multiple picnics and BBQs, all of which have been attended by lots of family, friends, and children.  Of course, on July 4th we’ll be having a massive backyard party.  These events are great, but I’ve been guilt ridden by the amount of waste we’re producing.  Napkins, plates, utensils!  I’ve tried to find recyclable options, but some cost a fortune.  What do you suggest to minimize my waste, and my cost?

Thanks,

Susan

THE ANSWER

Hi Susan, thank you so much for the great and timely question. The amount of waste from eating a meal outdoors can be immense, but there are some easy (and cheap) ways to reduce the amount of your garbage and your guilt.  In The Conscious Kitchen I discuss entertaining for a crowd (see below). My favorite way to minimize waste and cost at a party is to ask people to BYO plates, cups, cloth napkins, and utensils. Have items on hand for guests who choose not to. You might be pleasantly surprised at how many do bring their own items, though. And the zany mix and matching this creates is festive. This goes for July 4th and beyond — it’s how I host my daughter’s winter waste-free  birthday parties, too.

From The Conscious Kitchen:

One of the many pleasures of cooking is inviting your family and friends to share meals with you.  Depending on the size of your crowd, short cuts become tempting.  Resist the urge to serve on paper plates.  A far better option is to use your real plates, glasses, silverware, and cloth napkins.  If you won’t, use only unbleached paper or compostable plates, plus unbleached paper or compostable paper cups and recycled-paper napkins.  If using plastic cutlery, go for items made of #2, #4, or #5 (see below), especially if they can be reused and eventually recycled.  If using corn or sugar plastic, make sure you can compost or recycle it where you live.

#2 (HDPE or high-density polyethylene), a hard plastic used for everything from milk jugs to cleaning product containers, is presently being used as one of the replacements for bisphenol-A containing polycarbonate (#7) in baby and reusable water bottles.

#4 (LDPE or low-density polyethylene), a soft plastic widely used for food storage bags, plastic shopping bags, and squeezable bottles.

#5 (PP or polypropylene), a versatile plastic that is used for bottle tops, yogurt and food storage containers, plus baby bottles.

#7 (other, catch-all), this classification is for any and all plastics that don’t fall under #1 to #6, and can include polycarbonate, the hard plastic used mainly for bottles (water and baby) that contains bisphenol-A.

The confusing and frustrating part is that even if you do buy compostable items, usually they are made from GM plants, which require lots of fertilizer and plenty of chemicals to stabilize them.  These materials are considered biodegradable, but will only biodegrade under strict conditions–they need to have access to air, water, light, microbes, and enzymes.  Since most people don’t recycle these items, they end up in landfills, buried and unable to break down–just like regular plastic.  If you use “compostable” plates, make sure you can compost or recycle these items close to where you live (some municipalities don’t recycle the corn based plastics).  Best case scenario: start composting in your own home!  Go to the EPA’s site for more information on how you can get started with your own personal compost.

Happy 4th of July! What’s better than celebrating with family, friends, and great food?


What You Don’t Know: Kitchen Cleaners And Your Food

  • June 28, 2011 1:21 pm

Many people will spend the extra dollar or two on buying organic, especially when it comes to poultry.  Unfortunately, many are still using an army of questionable chemicals to clean their kitchen counters, cutting boards, and knives.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about kitchen systems and keeping your free range, organic, local, delicious chicken as chemical-free as you intended.

One of the many hot-button topics when it comes to chicken – conventional vs. local/pastured vs. free range organic (local or not) – is how the birds are disinfected post-slaughter.  Conventional chickens in the United States tend to be disinfected in chlorine baths, a procedure that has long been banned by the European Union.  It’s also banned by USDA organic rules.  There are other ways of decontaminating poultry: ozone baths, eco-water baths, or air chilling.  If you’ve sought out and spent good money on a chlorine-free chicken, be careful where you put it.  Cutting it on a counter or board that has been cleaned with chlorine or any other disinfectants and retains its residue undermines your choice.  Think it through.  If you clean with conventional cleaners in a kitchen, you’re applying them to your meals, adding toxic chemicals you were trying to avoid by buying organic or low-sprayed local food.  Shift your mind-set to consider your kitchen in a holistic, systemic fashion.  Don’t compartmentalize the food from counter cleaners or even pots and pans.  If you don’t want your chicken to be contaminated with chlorine, don’t contaminate your kitchen-or any room in your home-with it, either.

So what is the takeaway here?  Think big picture. It’s never a good idea to chlorinate your unchlorinated chicken. So do buy local pastured organic poultry. And do be mindful of how you’re cleaning those much used surfaces in your kitchen.  Whatever you clean with will get into your food and your body.  Buy natural plant-based cleaners or make your own. You can just use vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. If you want something a little fancier for surfaces other than cutting boards, here’s a DIY all purpose cleaner, also from Planet Home:

Combine 2 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp borax, 1/2 tsp plant-based liquid soap, and 1 cup water in a spray bottle and shake well.  Lemon juice or essential oils can also be added for fragrance.  (Washing soda may leave harmless white reside on a surface if not wiped well.)

Q&A: Summer Grilling

  • June 23, 2011 9:43 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

My family and I love to grill in our backyard all summer long.  If the weather allows it, we’re out there almost every night!  Our old charcoal grill is, well, old and tired, so we’re thinking of purchasing a new one for the season.  We would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, especially because we use it so often.  What are your thoughts on the best grills to buy?

Thanks,

Louise

THE ANSWER:

Hi Louise,

Thank you so much for your question, and lucky you to have a backyard for daily grilling and more.  Us city dwellers are very jealous.  This is a hot topic as the days are getting longer, the weather is warmer, and July 4th is fast approaching, but there are a lot of issues to consider before lighting up those coals.  In The Conscious Kitchen I explain the ins and outs of grill use:

No one can deny the allure of an open fire.  Cooking outside makes sense when the weather is warm, but there are a number of things to scrutinize before you grill.  Foodies have long debated the merits of charcoal versus gas.  Gas, a nonrenewable resource, is a convenient and controllable way to cook on an open flame, but where taste is concerned, charcoal always wins.  Environmentally speaking, though, charcoal is worse than gas.  Among other negatives, charcoal promotes deforestation (it is made from trees) and pollutes the air as it burns.  This might not seem like a big deal if you’re the sort who grills once in a blue moon, but think about how much pollution gets collectively released into the air on a day like July 4.  According to an article in the July/August 2005 issue of Sierra magazine, an estimated sixty million barbecues are held on this holiday, during which Americans burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and release 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.  Research has shown that in areas where people grill often, fatty acids in meat smoke can contribute to hazy skies.  Fat smog!  If you aren’t prepared to give up grilling, it’s good to be aware of the impact it can have on both your health and the environment and to minimize it however you can.

THE LIST: GRILLS

A sliding scale of choices from best to worst:

-Solar cookers (not technically grills) cook outside using nothing but the sun’s energy

-Electric, natural gas, and propane: they burn cleaner and are more efficient than charcoal or wood

-Hybrid grills, using as little natural charcoal or wood as possible

-Natural charcoal and hard wood, using a chimney starter

AVOID: Conventional charcoal, charcoal containing lighter fluid, and lighter fluid in general

I have more on each of those choices, and the nitty gritty on why lighter fluid must always be avoided in the book. And don’t forget about what you’re putting on the grill (i.e. local veggies and well-raised meat), the plates you’re eating off of (preferably reusable), and how you’re cleaning up after dinner (natural cleaners, please).

Who has tried a solar cooker? Curious!

What You Don’t Know: What Butchers See

  • June 21, 2011 8:49 am

Most of us do not have the opportunity to inspect the entire pig or steer or lamb before we buy our loins and shanks, but butchers do–if they’re cutting whole animals and not just selling boxed parts.  There is apparently a lot to learn about how an animal was raised by “reading” a carcass. Doing this informs Joshua and Jessica Applestone about the animals they carve and sell. I was fascinated by listening to both of them describe what they look for and what it means as I helped them write their book. Here is an excerpt from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat about Josh’s experience finding pork he felt comfortable selling at Fleisher’s — and eating after 16 plus years as a vegan.

PASTURED VS. ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL

Conventional supermarket pork comes from animals that have never lived or breathed outside a sterile factory farm, never stepped a hoof on the earth, never rooted in the dirt.  Animals that have been bred to live exclusively in confinement are so scrawny that they would freeze outside anyway.  They’re also so delicate that people entering their confinement operation have to wear masks and shoe covers so the animals don’t get sick(er).  To prevent disease outbreaks and to simulate faster growth, the commercial hog industry is said to add more than 10 million pounds of antibiotics to its feed yearly, which is, by some accounts, up to eight times more than all the antibiotics used to treat human illness in that same time frame.

In addition to the antibiotics, confinement pigs are fed cheap crap.  So it should come as no surprise that their meat tastes like it.  Even if you do the research and know something about how your ham was raised and treated, you won’t see what a butcher sees.  We see, for instance, that pastured pigs have clean glands – they’re almost the same color as the flesh.  Glands are the filters for the body, and they reflect what the animals have been through.  On our pigs , they are pearlescent and clear.  On a conventionally raised pig, those glands are brown to black.  One of our colleagues told us this before we saw it, and we didn’t believe him.  Then one time while I was learning to make charcuterie at someone else’s shop, I ran into a gray/black gland.  It was disgusting.  Often these glands are not removed before the meat is ground or processed.  If well-raised and -fed pastured pork isn’t available near you, USDA organic is absolutely a far safer, better bet than conventional.  Always read labels and ask questions; just because something is certified organic doesn’t mean it’s local or that it has roamed free.


Happy Father’s Day: Make Dad The Perfect Steak

  • June 19, 2011 3:37 pm

This is Fleisher’s perfect steak recipe, directly from The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat. Make sure to cook well-raised meat only. You’re welcome!

Unless you pay close attention, grilling is perhaps the quickest way to ruin pastured beef.  It is always leaner than its conventional cousins, requiring a delicate balance of heat and timing, and a lot less latitude as far as cooking times go.  You can’t throw it on the grill and walk away.  Grilling may be sexy, but we beg, we plead, we cajole customers to follow our instructions: pan-sear and finish it in the oven.  Our favorite steak is a dry-aged top sirloin at least 1 1/2 inches think.  With a thinner steak, don’t transfer to the oven.

-Preheat the oven to 300 F

-Bring to room temperature, then salt each side of the steak and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before cooking.

-Heat an ovenproof pan (French steel or cast iron is preferred) over high heat until it starts to smoke (oil is not necessary, but add a tablespoon of organic canola oil if you like).

-Sear the steak in the hot pan for 2 minutes per side.  (Never use a fork to turn the steak, use your fingers or tongs.)

-Put a splash of olive oil, a pat of butter, a dollop of bone marrow, or a mixture on top of the steak.

-Transfer the pan to the oven.

-Cook for 4 to 8 minutes to desired doneness (it depends on the steak, so go by internal temperature, not time – we recommend 120 F for a perfect medium-rare).

-Take pan out of the oven, place the steak on a cutting board, and let it rest for 5 minutes.

-Slice and serve.

Enjoy!

Q & A: Safe, Plastic-Free Mattress Waterproofing

  • June 16, 2011 9:48 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi,

I like to use a waterproof cover on mattresses due to the fact that my daughter is STILL not night potty trained (don’t get me started). Is there such a thing as a non-plastic but effective waterproof cover for a mattress? Once we go to all the expense and trouble of buying nice mattresses so they breathe good things when sleeping, I hate to toss a plastic cover over them to protect from the pee when they’re potty training, but I’d also hate to soak the durn thing with pee as soon as we buy it…

Jessica

THE ANSWER:

Thanks for the question.  You’re in luck; there is an easy answer for such a difficult problem.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home explaining what to use for waterproofing your mattress. I also discuss this in The Complete Organic Pregnancy.

For the safest waterproofing, avoid plastic altogether and opt for a wool “puddle pad.”  Lanolin in wool is naturally water resistant.  Wool is also durable: a flat pad (i.e., not fitted) can grow with the child, transitioning to a single bed when the time comes.  Sleeping on wool is also more comfortable and regulates body temperature better than plastic.

Wool puddle pads can be found all over the place, especially online. I prefer eco or pure grow wool. Keep in mind that while lanolin is naturally water resistant, wool still does get wet. You’ll want to purchase more than one pad to swap in when/if needed in the middle of the night. Good luck!

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat On TastingTable.com

  • June 15, 2011 1:13 pm

Holy lovely review! Thanks TastingTable.com!

A mini excerpt:

“As we read the new book from butchering power couple Joshua and Jessica Applestone, however, the term [rock star butcher] seemed apropos: The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat is at once a political manifesto on the agricultural climate, a memoir and an instructional how-to with lessons on tying roasts and breaking down lambs. Theirs is the philosophy that has spawned a movement of imitators….

….The book is a worthwhile read, providing context for the many practices that have now become ubiquitous phrases on menus; here, such terms as primals and nose-to-tail are explained (and encouraged) through useful recipes and tips.”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat in Bon Appetit

  • June 15, 2011 12:36 pm

Not sure who looks better? The book cover or Josh? Fun to see both of them in Bon Appetit! And love love love that they’re calling it “The new bible for conscious carnivores.”

What You Don’t Know: What’s In Your Tampons Etc.

  • June 14, 2011 8:22 am

More than half of the population must use them monthly, but do most women think about how fem care (as the industry calls them) products impact the environment or even their bodies? Nope. Kind of a big oversight for something you’re so, um, intimately involved with. Think about it: conventionally produced tampons are made of cotton, which is one of the most highly sprayed crops on the planet. They can also contain plastic, rayon, and are often scented. Here is an excerpt from Planet Home about the risks associated with using them:

According to the National Research Center for Women and Families, approximately 43 million women in the United States use tampons.  And no one knows the cumulative health effect of using conventional feminine care products.  While the boxes on most drugstore shelves aren’t required to list ingredients, most tampons are cotton or a cotton-rayon blend with scent.  Fragrance can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals and can also be irritating to skin, especially in such a delicate area.

Conventional cotton often comes from genetically modified seeds and has been sprayed with pesticides, which is bad for farmers and the environment.  According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides.  These pesticides used on cotton happen to be among the world’s worst: Five of the nine most commonly used have been identified as possible human carcinogens.  Others are known to damage the nervous system and are suspected of disrupting the body’s hormonal system.

Highly absorbent rayon is manufactured from wood pulp, a process that involves bleaching with chlorine-containing substances.  The eventual product may contain chlorinated hydrocarbons as well as dioxin residues.  Highly absorbent synthetic fibers can be a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome.  Although some synthetics have been banned, the FDA still allows the use of viscose rayon in certain amounts in tampons.  Dr. Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs, director of clinical microbiology and diagnostic immunology at the New York University Medical Center, and a leading expert on the health risks of tampons, says that rayon can still create a breeding ground for toxins.  All-cotton tampons present the lowest risk.

Luckily, there are alternatives!  And plenty of them.  Look to these companies for eco- and you-friendlier fem care:

7th Generation

Maxim

NatraCare

To avoid using an agricultural/disposable product, you can choose a reusable one. Glenny, my editorial assistant, swears by The Keeper. Here are some of her thoughts on it:

“I purchased my first and only Keeper back when I was a college sophomore, about seven years ago.  Short of waxing poetic about it, I will share my top five reasons for absolutely loving my Keeper:

1. It saves me money.  As a college student I only had to pay $18 for mine, but you can purchase yours today for only $37!  Compare that with the monthly expenditures on tampons and other menstrual products and you’re saving a bundle.

2. Its a small step toward a healthier planet.  Made of natural gum rubber it is a zero waste product.  No throwing out wrappings and used napkins, no toxic cottons to worry about.

3. I’ve had mine since 2004 and it is still in top-notch condition.  Life expectancy is 10 years!  Honestly, my relationship with my Keeper is the longest and healthiest I’ve ever had.

4. No toxic shock syndrome.  Enough said.

5. Portable!  Slip it in your purse for those days when you might start your cycle.  No need to lug liners and tampons around with you, and you’ll definitely never have to sneak out to the pharmacy for an emergency purchase.  The Keeper is small and discreet, and usually comes with a darling little bag to keep it in.

No matter which option you choose, make sure you’re thinking about your body and the environment.  You’ll be much happier because of it!”

The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat In The News

  • June 12, 2011 10:22 pm

Feeling grateful for all of the mentions of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat in the news and on the web! Here are a few recent articles and posts:

Thanks The Denver Post for reprinting the Quick Lamb Meatballs recipe.

The Butcher Blog has a great write-up on their website, including this tidbit I love: ”It’s neither cookbook nor reference book nor memoir nor treatise, but the sum of all these things, making it much more.”

For more reviews, check out Bamboo Magazine, Errant Dreams (who gave the book a 5 out of 5!), Uncrate, and Urban Daddy.

Thank you, thank you!