Thursday, March 27, 2014

bottled water: just say no!

There was a point in my past life when I bought a case of seltzer water a week. I developed the habit during graduate school when I felt perpetually ill from stress, lack of sleep and too much caffeine. Bubbly water seemed the only antidote to the buckets of bad coffee I drank to stay awake.

I traded the caffeine (and the stress) for more sleep when I graduated over a decade ago. But my habit of drinking seltzer water continued for several more years.  Then one day I looked at my recycle bin and noticed the way it overflowed with empty plastic. Why hadn't that bothered me before? Deciding that was way too much plastic for any one person to produce in a week, so I resolved to quit the habit. 

I still drink seltzer, but instead of buying twelve plastic bottles each week, I buy one or two glass bottles instead.

Just a week ago, if you'd asked me if I drank water out of plastic bottles, I'd have said "no way!" I wonder if my feelings of self-righteousness would have showed through. With the exception of "rare occasions" when a plastic bottle of water seemed unavoidable, I did not see myself as part of our growing bottled water problem. 

Then last weekend, we watched the documentary Tapped.  Have you seen it? It skewers the bottled water industry at every step of the product cycle: from extraction, where beverage companies haul water away from local communities who don't share in the profits; to packaging, where manufacture of the bottles relies on petroleum and harmful chemical elements (BPA when the film was made, antimony now); to testing, which is overseen by one FDA employee; to advertising, which misleads consumers into thinking the water is safer than tap water; to disposal which is turning our oceans into a "plastic soup."

After watching it, you'll vow to never touch another bottle of water again. That's what Steve and I said anyway. Of course, I was thinking in my I'm-already-all-over-this way about how I gave up bottled water years ago, but I didn't say that out loud.

The next day, I went to the coffee shop to work on my book. I don't do this every day - maybe once every one or two weeks.  After a long morning drinking decaf and writing, I decided I needed something to eat.

And I was thirsty.

I looked at my drink options: plastic bottles of water, plastic bottles of soda, and glass bottles of juice. 

I hesitated. I couldn't drink a bottle of water the day after watching Tapped! But I hate juice, refuse to drink soda (it's in plastic anyway) and couldn't stand the idea of another sweet drink after all the coffee I'd had (I'm not a black coffee kind of girl).

What should I do? I could hear the people behind me shuffling their feet in line. Their looks of "make up your mind!" drilled into the back of my head as I tottered on the edge of a panic-purchase.

My mind raced. I didn't have a reusable water bottle with me, and besides, would it be fair to bring my own drink after sitting in this restaurant using their electricity and wifi all day? I felt like I owed the proprietors my business.

So I did it. I pulled a crinkly bottle of water out of the ice, purchased it, and drank it. The day after watching Tapped.

Just this once.

Two nights later, I co-hosted a team-dinner for my son's soccer team. The other family provided drinks: two cases of water and a case of Gatorade. Egad! That was more water bottles than I wanted to be responsible for in a year!

An hour or two into the evening, I offhandedly mentioned how thirsty I was to Steve. The other mom heard me and kindly brought me a bottle of water. "Oh, thanks!" I said with a pained smile. I didn't know what to do. Could I sneak through the living room, return the bottle to the cooler, then rummage through her cupboards for a glass without her noticing? And would it matter if I did? Someone was going to drink that bottle of water, whether I did or not.

My friend stood in front of me, expecting me to guzzle down this drink with relief. Not wanting to be rude, I twisted off the plastic top with a crackle, and drank up.

Later, I noticed Steve doing it too.

Just this once.

Three days later, I volunteered to help out at my daughter's swim meet. I brought a reusable water bottle with me because all-day meets in hot indoor pools never fail to dehydrate me. In the afternoon, I sat at the scoring table entering meet results into a computer. Toward the end of the meet, things became frenzied as we worked to finish the events on time. I had drained my water bottle long before. Parched, I asked a swimmer if they could refill my bottle at a water fountain. Before I could stop her, another mom intercepted, explaining there was no need to do that because "We have a whole cooler of water bottles right here!" She was nice enough to bring me one.

And I drank it.

Just this once.

"Just this once" turned out to be three bottles of water within one week of watching Tapped!  That's hardly a record of abstinence.

If I were in high school trying not to get pregnant, I'd be in big trouble.

I still feel completely committed to the idea that I should never drink or purchase a bottle of water again. What I discovered, however, is how much our culture has acclimated to this idea of portable water. With bottles so omnipresent, other ways of accessing and drinking water (like large thermoses, pitchers and, imagine: CUPS!) have disappeared.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who watched Tapped and swore myself off of bottled water. And I bet I'm also not the only person to discover this can be a challenge.

As a country, we consume bottled water like it's...well...water. Check out the numbers. Between 2009 (when Tapped came out) and 2012, sale of bottled water increased by 1.2 BILLION gallons!

For the visual effect:
Data from the Beverage Marketing Corporation. Graph by Peter Gleick

The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) cited a bright future for bottled water sales last spring, noting a 6.2% increase in bottled water consumption between 2012 and 2013.  According to IBWA, U.S. consumption rates work out to an average of 30.8 gallons of water per person per year!

But there's good news for conservationists too. San Francisco just banned the sale of bottled water on public property. How cool is that!?  As part of the ordinance, the city will also take steps to provide more "water filling stations" around town.  At least in San Francisco, public water won't go the way of the public phone.

While San Francisco marks the first major city to ban bottled water, smaller movements have led the charge. Concord, Massachusetts became the first city to implement a ban when it did so on January 2013. That same month, the University of Vermont became one of the first public universities to implement a ban on bottled water sales.  The movement continues to grow with other smaller communities and private universities getting on board. In the latest news, Western Washington University will remove bottled water from campus shelves in just a few days, on April 1st.

If you want to learn more about the movement to ban bottled water, check out the blog Ban the Bottle.

As for me, I'm regrouping. Over the past week, I discovered that really giving up bottled water is not a passive thing. I had no idea the "rare occasions" when I drank bottled water were so frequent. All of my nice friends and acquaintances caught me off guard with their kindness and generosity.

But now I'm ready for them: "Thanks so much, but I've given it up." It's as simple as "Just Say No!" If anyone asks why, I get a chance to spread the word.

So many world problems feel impossible and expensive to solve. This one is so easy.

In the U.S., public water is safe and free.

All we have to do is drink it!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

strawberry smoothie mandate

Last year, I wrote in lazy locavore hangover about how I couldn't get inspired to cook or do the work of food preservation for the coming winter. Cooking usually feels like a creative outlet for me, and preparing/preserving/eating local organic food feels like a spiritual practice. But last spring and summer, something was missing in all of that. For the first time in as long as I could remember, food felt like a chore. 

As the winter winds down and I remember that lethargy, I am surprised to realize that somehow, I still pulled it off.  We ate well this winter. In jars we had the usual suspects: apple and tomato sauces, peaches, pears and green beans among other things. We also had some new foods like pickled beets (they were delicious!), pickled peppers (yum!), and BBQ sauce (Yuck. It needed some serious doctoring out of the jar).

In the freezer we had various roasts, a few racks of ribs, a little ground meat, a lot of breakfast sausage, half of a lamb, and over 20 whole chickens.

I don't know why, but for me, there is something obscene about all those birds. When I layered them on the shelves with packages of wings, legs and thighs last fall, I couldn't help but wonder if the birds minded sharing space with so many packages of parts. I had this gruesome flash of how I'd feel packed into a room surrounded by bags full of frozen elbows. Ugh. My throat felt a little tight at the thought.

With an imagination like that, I suppose I am well-suited for vegetarianism (or lessatarianism to be more accurate).

When March arrived a few weeks ago, I looked in the freezer feeling satisfied. While I still had plenty of food for the next few months, I also saw a lot of empty space. Many of the birds had flown the coop (if we want to fool ourselves in that way). The green beans, collard balls, corn, black-eyed peas, and various kinds of pesto had dwindled.  I was just thinking how well I'd planned when I looked at the top shelf, the one reserved for fruit and saw it was...FULL.

Holy Toledo!--we forgot to eat the fruit!

That top shelf sat bulging with 4 gallons of strawberries, 2 gallons of blueberries, 1 gallon of pears, a few random small bags of melon, and several quarts of raspberries.  Aside from uses like muffins and pancakes, this stash was supposed to fuel a winter's worth of smoothies.

What happened?

I could say it was my hoarder instinct in overdrive. And I'm sure there'd be some truth in that. Sometimes I get so caught up in the gathering and storing "for later" I forget that "later" is NOW. This is especially true of the strawberries because I freeze them in May and must look at them for months before I'm "allowed" to break into them.

But that's not the whole truth.

If this local and mostly organic fruit didn't fuel my winter smoothies as intended, then what did?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe a banana or two?

Some almonds?

A bit of chocolate?

I might have added a "splash" of coconut milk.

And sugar.

It's true.

There is NOTHING local about a chocolate-banana-almond-coconut shake!

Unless, of course, you live within 20 degrees latitude of the EQUATOR.


All I can say is: I got addicted. Surely that is some kind of defense? I think it was the caffeine in the chocolate.  I don't otherwise drink caffeine, and I found myself waking up every morning saying, "Don't talk to me. I can't think before I've had my chocolate-banana-almond-coconut shake!"

In my chocolate delirium, I plum forgot about the fruit.

Now, spring is a week away (one week! woohoo!).  Except holy crap - we've got a lot of frozen fruit to eat. There's only one thing worse than running out of your winter stores before the new growing season starts, and that's leaving your winter stores uneaten.

It feels so wasteful--of the food left over and the time spent preparing it.

So we've been hitting the strawberries hard. We've been under a near daily strawberry smoothie mandate for two weeks and have already polished off two gallons of them.

My kids have no idea why there's suddenly an influx of berry flavored stuff on the menu.  I wonder what exactly goes through their heads as they endure my manic directives.

In one day I can swing from "Don't touch those strawberries!" to "Good God! Why haven't you eaten more strawberries!"

We have an urgency around food that wouldn't exist if we shopped for this stuff at the grocery store. 

Or if, perhaps, the person in charge of all this food storage and consumption was a tad less neurotic.

Or forgetful.

Or susceptible to the intoxications of chocolate and coconut in a blender.

Still, despite the berry mania, I feel like we're in good shape as we ride out this last week of winter. In reality, I discovered the fruit just in time. After all, it's not like it'll start raining berries on March 23rd.  We still have two months before fresh fruit will appear in the markets.

And I'm happy to say that, unlike my lethargy of last year, I feel tired of this year's winter food coma. After such a frigid season, I'm more than ready to do the work of eating fresh food and am happy to make my chocolate shake addiction a distant memory--an anomaly of a winter gone by.