Every year, in the midst of our hectic daily schedules, Earth Day approaches more quickly than we’re prepared for.  It’s a time when we’re reminded to go the extra mile and make a new kind of effort beyond what we consider our daily eco-friendly habits.  We’re caught scratching our heads, thinking “how can I do my part without sacrificing too much of my time?
There are many small and large ways to keep the balance between responsible ecological action and keeping up with the demands of a modern lifestyle, and yet we can offer you two in one: plant some bamboo.
Yes, that dreaded homeowner’s bane that can grow at mythical speeds and lay tornado-like waste to landscaping.  Not quite true, though.  Yes, bamboo is one of the fastest growing plant on earth; some reports have claimed 39 inches in 24 hours in  optimal conditions.  This is actually a good thing, as it’s stalks, or culms, grow to desired height quickly and can be endlessly harvested; it’s the ultimate sustainable woody resource.  But not all bamboo species are “runners,” those that grow out in lines from underground nodes and root balls, defying fences and delicate plants.  It’s quite easy to find “clumping” species that have vertical primary growth like other plants and are non-invasive.  It’s becoming evermore popular and easy to purchase at local nurseries(for those of you in CA’s Bay Area) and online .
Why bamboo for Earth Day?
1)  As stated above, it is an absolutely sustainable resource.
2) It is an excellent C02 “fixer,” devouring the atmosphere-warming gas at incredible rates, and emits 35% more oxygen than the biomass equivalent of trees.
3) Although it thrives with ample water, its hardiness is epic and drought-resistant varieties are easily found.  Frankly, it’s difficult to kill.  It’s the Van Damme of plants, a real hard target.
4) It needs no fertilizer and usually no soil amendment, as long as it drains decently, which means very low energy cost.
5) The variety of uses exceed any other growing thing on Earth.  That’s not an official statement, but seriously, find something else you can make healthy food, medicine, building materials (from bicycles and fishing rods to boats and houses), musical instruments, clothing, paper, fertilizing charcoal, beer and weapons out of.  You will fail.  To see just how versatile this miracle vegetation is, check out this gallery of bamboo products.
6) It’s tall, dark and handsome.  That’s earthy.
And you don’t necessarily have to plant it in a pot or in your yard.  Our cities and suburbs have a surprising amount of abandoned or unclaimed open space that some bamboo plants would take full and beneficial advantage of.  And once it takes hold, the plant’s hardiness makes it easy to break apart root balls to form new clusters which can be harvested for new planting.
Planting bamboo is an easy favor you can do for yourself, your community and shared planet.  It feels good!  No, really; the internodes are smooth and silky to the touch.  Sensual.
-Jeremy Pearson 

Every action we take impacts the world around us. When we drive, fly, buy a can of soda, or even just take out the trash we are affecting the Earth. You may have heard the term “carbon footprint” to describe our environmental behavior. Carbon footprints are a way of measuring our individual and collective environmental harm caused everyday.   Entire companies have been founded on this idea, such as those that offer carbon offset credits. You can even calculate your own or household’s carbon footprint online and see how you match up with the US and rest of the world.

Although we love how informative carbon footprints are, it can be a little overwhelming. The idea of a carbon footprint only looks at the negative ways in which we impact the planet rather than focusing on the positive. That’s exactly what Gregory Norris thought when he decided to found Handprinter.org. The site looks at what Norris calls handprints rather than footprints. Handprints include all the positive things we do everyday that make a difference.

 

Norris, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, thought of the idea after realizing his students were feeling pessimistic about their effect on the world, even stating that “the planet would be better off if they had not been born.”  Norris felt his students and others looking at only their footprints were concentrating on detrimental actions. “…Something was missing-that we can also benefit the planet,” Norris explained, “I needed to name those benefits to make them as tangible as footprints.”

And that he did. He took his handprints and turned them into a website that not only lets you calculate your own handprint, but encourages others to follow suit. The website promotes spreading one’s positive impact via social media, which in turn increases your handprint the more you share. He hopes to take this idea one step further where organizations, schools, and maybe even cities will compete among each other for larger handprints.

Norris’ handprints are already having the positive effect he was hoping for, as they ended up on Time Magazine’s list of “10 Ideas that are Changing Your Life.”  We love the encouraging message handprints bring, because focusing on the bad news often overwhelms and depresses us, but this idea gives us hope. It introduces a way to look at our actions  in a bright light. Next time someone asks about carbon footprints, make sure to tell them about your handprints. Will you be using handprinter?

Easter is celebrated throughout the world for religious reasons, however, many people in the secular world use the holiday to usher in Spring. The main non-religious symbols of this celebration are the rabbit and the egg. Both are meant to represent fertility, as the season of Spring generally does. They symbolize the new beginnings and new life that is about to come.  We’ve always loved this idea as it dates back thousands and thousands of years, however being vegan, we weren’t such a fan of using actual eggs. And as environmentalists, we didn’t want to use chemical dyes or plastic eggs.

However, we have fond memories of Easter Egg hunts as children and remember the exhilaration of finding them hidden in your garden. So when we think of what traditions we will pass to our own children and how we want to represent fertility without hurting the Earth or animals, it gets complicated. We want to teach them to celebrate life and the season of Spring in a positive manner, yet still involve the childhood fun and amazement of a good old fashioned egg hunt.

What we decided upon was to keep the symbol of the egg, but vegan and naturalize it!  In craft stores, they sell wooden eggs which can be painted or dyed.  Even better if we could locate FSC certified sustainable wooden eggs, as the White House did this year.  Choosing plastic eggs is another possibility, however, they are generally made from petroleum and can’t easily be decorated. But on the plus side, they can be re-used the following year and can hide fun little gifts.

Once we decided to go the route of the wooden egg, we also want to avoid the typical chemical dyes and petroleum based paints and opted for a natural take. There are a variety of natural paints on the market to use, we love Unearthed, all vegan and natural.  We also found this uber helpful site which explained how to make dyes at home. Here is a run down of what to use for which color, click on the full article for exact instructions.

Gold: Handful of yellow onion skins
Yellow: 2 tablespoons turmeric or a handful of carrot tops
Green: Handful of coltsfoot
Blue: 2 cups chopped red cabbage (for best results, add cabbage to water while hard-boiling eggs)
Pink: 2 cups chopped beets
Purple: 1 cup frozen blueberries
Brown: 2 tablespoons coffee grounds or 4 black tea bags

After the wooden eggs are finished and naturally adorned, the next step was to teach the children how to respect the eggs as new life and not a food source. Traditionally, the eggs would now be hidden all over the yard or house, the children would find them, and proceed to eat them. Using a basket to collect them seemed to continue this idea. Building a nest within the basket or just by itself is a wonderful solution to this issue. The nest will symbolize the new life (eggs) how they would appear in nature, just waiting to hatch rather than be eaten by humans. For an even better effect, add  toy or wooden birds. Now when  the kids collect all their eggs, they will be returning them to Momma and Papa bird.

So there it is. It is possible to celebrate Spring, Easter, and new life, cruelty free and naturally. You can still use the idea of what eggs represent and have a fun, interactive way to teach children about the preciousness of life. Plus, now us vegans and environmentalists can still have our Easter egg or rather eggless hunt for generations! Happy Easter :)

Passover begins a little early this year on April 6th. The seminal piece of the holiday being the sedar, where dishes are fixed to represent aspects of the Israelites enslavement in ancient Egypt. One key dish at any Passover sedar is the traditional Charoset. The Charoset is a paste made of fruit, usually apples, and nuts that is designed to symbolize  the mortar used to build bricks in Egypt. Unfortunately for most vegans out there, Charoset is usually made with honey and standard sugar. However, our vegan recipe of the week is a vegan version of the traditional Charoset. Happy Passover!

Vegan Passover Charoset  

  • 3 Medium Organic Apples (Macintosh work well)
  • 1/2 Cup Organic Unshelled Walnuts
  • 1/4 Cup Kosher Vegan Sweet Red Wine
  • 1 Tbsp Organic Evaporated Cane Juice or Agave
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon

Chop apples in small cubes and set aside. In a food processor or blender add all ingredients and pulse until pasty but not too much. The consistency should leave some crunchiness of apples and walnuts. Sprinkle a little extra cinnamon on top and serve.

Just like Earth Day and World Fair Trade Day, World Water Day is an excellent way to bring attention to very serious.  Days likes these draw awareness to serious issues such as water scarcity. They garnish a lot of press and attention, but what happens the day, month, or even year after? It is important to use these days to remind ourselves of real issues our world is facing together, yet we must take the lessons beyond just one day.

The theme for this year’s World Water Day is Food and Water. Water related issues are directly connected to food. In fact, most of the water used around the world is consumed via food production such as agriculture and animal husbandry. According to the World Water Day site, “Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day…producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.” For more facts on water and agriculture check out these videos from the UN World Water Day YouTube Channel:

The numbers are pretty shocking and water issues go beyond these videos. As the population grows, water will become increasingly scarce. It is projected that “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.”  One doesn’t have to look far to see the current affects of the water crisis. Droughts in East Africa have led to deaths and left millions of people famished and in need of water and food. 

Water scarcity is an issue we all must face together. World Water Day has done an excellent job of getting the conversation going, but where do we take it from here? What can we do in our day to day lives to help ease the water scarcity issues?

There are several steps we can take to make positive changes in our lives. The number one thing you can do is to think about your purchases and conserve where you can. Be mindful of the amount of water you use for things such as watering, dishes, showers, and even flushing your toilet. When you are purchasing food try to make more sustainable choices such as small farmed vegetables rather than mass produced meat. Install new technologies such as low flushing toilets, greywater re-use systems, or rainwater harvesting system. Or perhaps grow your own food using less water or water recycling technology.

One last, but most certainly not least tip is to educate yourselves and others. There is a lot of new information out there. You can read up on facts via the National Geographic Water Issue Site or the World Water Day site. Another great way to learn is a couple of great documentaries out there such as Flow and Blue Gold. Try starting by using the Water Footprint Calculator to see how your current habits match up and where you can make changes. 

Now take what you’ve learned, celebrate World Water Day today, tomorrow and everyday while telling everyone you know about it. :)

This weekend is St Patrick’s Day and on top of all the partying and drinking, many people love to cook Irish recipes. In my own household, my Mother would make Irish food for the holidays even though she was born in Hawaii and comes from an Asian background. The point is, everyone is Irish on St Patrick’s Day or at least pretend they are. The bad news is most of the recipes are laden with meat and dairy. But the good news is they can easily be converted to a vegan diet. Just check out our previous recipes for Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread, and Shepherd’s Pie for easy conversion ideas. However, if you want to get really ambitious, try out the following recipe for Mock Corn Beef & Cabbage or as some might call Boiled Dinner. As you become Irish for the day this weekend, make sure your meals are just as Irish and vegan alternatives.

Mock Corn Beef & Cabbage 

  • 1 Package or about 6-8oz of Vegetarian Beef or Seitan
  • 4 Cups Organic Vegetable Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1/2 Head Chopped Organic Cabbage
  • 2 Organic Potatoes
  • 2 Medium Organic Onions
  • 4 Organic Carrots
  • 2-3 Organic Celery Stalks
  • 2 Tbsp Organic Flour
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 Gloves of Organic Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Tsp Thyme
  • 1 Tsp Horseradish
  • 1 Tsp Dry Mustard
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tsp Pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp Sage

Chop up all vegetables in large chunks and finely chop the garlic. In a large pot add in the olive oil. Sautee the onions and garlic until a little brown but not over done. Add in the vegetable broth, water, all the veggies, and all the remaining seasonings. Leave on medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes. Add in the vegan beef to the mixture and cover again. We suggest using Gardein Beefless Tips or seasoned seitan or even tempeh. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove all the veggies and keep warm on a serving dish or tray. Keep the broth on medium heat and stir in the flour. Add water if needed, but mixture should make a thicker gravy. Pour gravy over veggies and beef substitute and serve.

On March 17th people all over the country will be sporting the color green in honor of St Patrick’s Day.  It’s not just the people, as bars begin serving green drinks, shamrock shaped anything sells in stores, and even the Chicago River runs green for the day. With all this green being thrown around one would think everyone was celebrating the environment. But in all actuality St Patrick’s Day can be the complete opposite. With many disposal decorations, often plastic, that end up littered on the street eventually rest in landfills. It’s not only the decorations that are harmful but massive amounts of beef is consumed as well as harmful chemical dyes added to drinks and food.

How do you avoid using this Irish themed holiday to be wasteful and make sure you turn your St Patrick’s Day thoroughly green? It’s actually easier than you think! By using the age-old wisdom of reduce, re-use, and make responsible choices. Here are a few of our suggestions to green your St Patty’s Day.

Re-purpose Decorations: This year, if you must walk around with shamrocks on your head or decorate your office in all shades of green, consider re-purposing items around your house. You may still have plenty of green items left over from Christmas laying around or perhaps from last year. It can be a fun family activity or craft party with your friends. You may also try hitting up your local thrift stores as many of the items not sold the previous year end up in their possession.

Re-use Clothing: Dying to wear green on St Patrick’s Day? Look through your closets for already existing items that you can use for the day rather than purchasing something new to wear. A thrift, vintage shop, or Etsy trip would be a great place to find previously worn green clothing to celebrate the big day.

Go Organic: Hold the dye and choose some organic brewskis for your festivities! There are plenty to choose from including Bison Brewery and Peak Organic. For a whole rundown of organic beer and your best choices, check out our old posts. You should also consider some eco-friendly breweries such as New Belgium and Brooklyn Brewery who are both run on wind power. If you are baking cupcakes or Irish favorites make sure all your produce choices are either local or organic.

Hold the Meat: Another great way to keep your St Patty’s Day feeling green is to cut back on the meat. Many traditional Irish recipes call for meat such as colcannon, corn beef, and shepherd’s pie. Alas, do not worry, there are great vegetarian and vegan versions of every favorite St Patty’s recipe. We have a terrific vegan Irish recipes including Irish Soda Bread and Stew, as well as Irish Coffee.

Re-usable Cups: Instead of spending the day and night drinking out of that plastic solo cup, use-reusable cups.  Yes the dishes can be annoying, but in the end you will feel better about not sending a stack of plastic cups into the landfill.  Another options is to choose recyclable or compostable cups.

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