Thursday, July 7, 2011

Loca ... What? Huh? Who?

     Summer in Athens is officially upon us and there is lots to do involving sustainability, but I want to focus on food for a minute. Athens is home to over a dozen restaurants who employ the 30 mile meal philosophy.  The 30 mile meal has become an important part of our flourishing locavore culture here in Athens, which was recently featured in an article in The Athens News (locavore meaning something or someone that uses locally produced products). Some of you may have not yet heard about the concept of the 30 mile meal, and that's okay, because you are about to be enlightened.
     The 30 mile meal is a pledge, of sorts, that a restaurant, or other establishment involving food, makes guaranteeing that they will try their darndest to use only ingredients produced within a 30 mile radius of their location (hence the nomenclature). The cool part about this agreement is that it is Athens specific. Restaurants all over the nation have utilized the concept of the 100 mile meal, but Athens is the trailblazer of this new and improved push for even more locavore awareness.
     Athens' sustainable food culture has been picking up a lot of press lately - good press in which the press are actually impressed. You get it, I'll stop. But in all seriousness, to Athenians, Casa, Village Bakery, or Fluff are just typical eateries we pass daily without giving them a second thought. We are so lucky to live in a community that is so active and concerned with localizing the food industry.
     You may be asking, "Why food, why now, why care?"  Well, truthfully, I'm on a bit of a Michael Pollan kick as well as being in the midst of a nutrition class which touches on the importance of knowing where our food comes from. So, after reading the A-News article about the locavore sensation Athens has become, something dawned on me. I think that we, as consumers, put too much trust in, not only those that grow our food but, those that actually prepare it. Sustainable consumerism is not a new idea and I think that the more popular notions of this practice are going to the farmers market, for example, or purchasing material items locally when possible. What really hit me, though, was that there has been this push for the awareness of where our food comes from when we grocery shop for it and when we are cooking it ourselves, but do we think like this in terms of food we don't prepare?
     Now, I'm not talking about places like McDonald's when I think of places not to go, if you consider yourself an informed consumer, because I'm hoping you already know the cat is out of the bag in terms of their lack of healthfulness and sustainable practices. I'm talking about local restaurants that are just as bad as McDonald's in the way they obtain ingredients, which involves driving them 2,000 miles by truck to their destination. Often times people don't think of local restaurants as the big bad Wal-marts or McDonald's, and often times people don't think of restaurants as places where they need to be smart and sustainable consumers. Just because a local restaurant isn't a part of a franchise doesn't mean it's sustainable and just because it's a restaurant and you weren't responsible for purchasing the ingredients doesn't mean you should let your consumer guard down. Yes, you are helping the local economy (which is very important and I'm not trying to discredit that aspect), but are you being an informed consumer when it comes to the "behind the scenes" of said local restaurant?
     Say, for example, that a local mom-and-pop restaurant buys locally and you eat there; you are being sustainable beyond just supporting the local economy through that one restaurant. It's a chain reaction, and that's why it's important because you are helping local produce farmers, dairy farmers, cattle farmers, etc. The belief that dining at a local non-franchise restaurant is always a sustainable choice may be a common misconception because of the fact that, unless specified, they are more likely than not buying ingredients locally. It seems to me that  if you are conscientious while grocery shopping, and try to be as sustainable of a consumer as possible, yet proceed to eat lunch at Applebee's and you are negating your efforts. I'm not saying you'll be damned to the depths of a hell where unsustainable people go, but a lot of folks think a salad is a sustainable choice no matter what establishment it's prepared in.
     Now while we're somewhat on the topic of chain restaurants, I want to add a bit about sustainable franchises, which are few and far between (don't worry, it'll all come together, forgive my digression). Places like Chipotle advertise and employ the use of antibiotic-free meat as well as support local farmers' produce. This may come as a shock to those who consider it fast food. It is "fast food" but it's an attempt at the fusion of "fast food" and "slow food". Chipotle is an example of a franchise which tries to use local ingredients, when possible. This is a noteworthy push for the franchises of the world to break into the sustainable food arena. I really like the idea of chain restaurants utilizing local food and it's sad that it isn't more common. If you think about the millions of people that consume fast food each day and then think if those fast food restaurants purchased locally, imagine how that would change everything local.
     I got a little off topic, but it makes sense when you think about any restaurant in the world in terms of Athens' locavore culture. If one little city in Ohio can be such an attraction to foodies and have such an influence on sustainably concerned individuals all over, why not switch to local everywhere? Why not use the Chipotle philosophy, if you are a fast food chain? It seems to make all too much sense, perhaps that's why it hasn't happened yet? The point is that we should be proud of our community and local restaurants, and support the 30 mile meal when we can. It never ceases to amaze me how cool it is to live in a town that is not so Cali-dependent (what I like to call places that get all their food, unsustainably, from across the country) as the rest of the country. So take advantage of it while you can, while you're here. The next time you pass Casa, stop in and try it, or if you're looking for something to do on a beautiful day, bike down to Village Bakery, it's not that far and it's worth the trip!

     Stay Sustainable,

     Becca in Athens

Here's a few links to a few 30 mile meal partners in case you want to check them out:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

It's Big, It's Emissionless, It's... Critical Mass!

     Some have described it as an ‘unorganized coincidence.’ Participants usually define it as a spontaneous gathering. People coming together with their bicycles (although some don’t shy away from coming with their skateboards or roller blades), to ‘cycle’ the streets for a few hours is better known as 'Critical Mass'. Anyone can join in. The routes are often chosen on the spot and as the group moves along.
     An event like ‘Critical Mass’ is special in that it is an important reminder of the non-fuel commuting alternatives which can now be utilized more often with the improvement of the weather. The small town streets of Athens tend to become overcrowded with cars during school period. In this sense, 'Critical Mass' is also a way of reclaiming the streets, and working to make them a safer, friendlier, and more sustainable environment by exemplifying alternative modes of transport.
     ‘Critical Mass’ is not an organization one has to become a member of in order to participate. It is a way of unifying a community behind an idea, and it differs from city to city and from country to country. ‘Critical Mass’ has also been described as a protest movement and has been seen as controversial in many parts of the world, although such a description might be inaccurate with regards to its intentions. It could, instead, be called a movement of raising awareness about the lack of a sustained policy in favor of using other ways of transport besides motor vehicles and favoring car owners when organizing infrastructure. It is because of such problems that cycling has become more and more dangerous especially in the big cities.
     ‘Critical Mass’ is a global phenomenon, in a sense, but one which has been appropriated and adapted by people around the world to express the problems in their communities. It is a way of becoming aware of the traffic difficulties and road safety in a community, and to better traffic's impact on the overall environment. In addition, there are other potential benefits to consider when taking your bike out for a ride more often and reasons to feel good about it. Bicycles do not impact an area's carbon footprint and have a low overall impact on the environment. They are energy efficient forms of transportation, which are great to use especially for short trips, as well as providing healthy exercise and a sustained work-out routine.
     The weather has not been very inviting when it comes to outdoor activities in the past few months. But, if there is a chance for sunshine and warm temperature, joining the local 'Critical Mass' this Friday at the College Green monument would be a smart choice.
     The gatherings are held on Fridays at the end of every month. If you want to become more informed on ‘Critical Mass’ in Athens, you can join the Facebook page, which describes the activity as: “a bicycle parade through the streets of Athens, Ohio to celebrate and advocate these self-propelled contraptions that bring countless benefits to society. We ride for fun. We ride for awesomeness. We ride to save the world.”
Athens Critical Mass is a great chance to stay active and socialize, as well as end in a fun way the OU 2011 Earth Month!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

'The Battle of Chernobyl'

     Hey everyone, we have a new blogger for Athens Sustained! His name is Alex and he is a grad student here at Ohio University. Read on to see what he has to say about nuclear energy and the Earth Month screening of 'The Battle of Chernobyl'.

     As a part of the process of raising awareness about global environmental problems, Earth Month 2011 continues here at OU with a screening of the film documentary ‘The Battle of Chernobyl.” The event is scheduled on April 26, 2011, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the nuclear disaster. The screening will start at 7:30pm, at the Scripps Auditorium.
On April 26, 1986, in an area of what was then the Soviet Union (present-day independent Ukraine), an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant released large quantities of radioactive material in the atmosphere and forcing the evacuation of over 350 thousand people from the contaminated areas. Today, around 7,000 people work in the decommissioning of the power plant as well as in preventing access to the contaminated 19-mile area around Chernobyl and preventing spread of the contamination. 
     Released in 2006, 20 years after the nuclear disaster, ‘The Battle of Chernobyl’ is a detailed presentation, with the aid of extensive archival footage and interviews with witnesses, on the circumstances and events as they unfolded beginning on April 26, 1986. The movie was directed by Thomas Johnson and released by the Paris-based ‘Play Film,’ a company which produces documentaries as well as short fiction and feature films. It has won numerous film awards on both sides of the Atlantic.
     ‘The Battle of Chernobyl’ offers interesting insights on the potential long-term destructive power of nuclear energy and its impact on the life of the local population directly affected, including forced evacuation and the radiation-related illnesses. The documentary gives its audience the opportunity to explore the details of one of the largest environmental tragedies of the last century and the long-term legacy costs it has inflicted on the nation affected.
     This is especially interesting as nuclear power plants are an increasingly seen as an important source of affordable energy. Nuclear energy is praised for delivering a clean alternative for energy production to other heavily pollutant materials such as coal. This is mainly because of the lack of carbon dioxide emissions, a key component of global warming. However, such an approach does not take into consideration the tons of radioactive waste produced each year. Radioactivity diminishes over time, in a process that can last, in the case of waste from nuclear power plants, for thousands of years. During this time, the material needs to be preserved in complete isolation to avoid the contamination of the environment.
     In the United States, nuclear facilities produce around 20 percent of electricity needs with 104 operating reactors. Ohio is one of 31 US states to house nuclear facilities. Here, nuclear power generates around 10 percent of the energy and facilities are concentrated in the northern part of the state, although (according to the Columbus Dispatch) there are plans to build a third plant in Piketon (Pike County). Most of the energy used is still produced using coal. Renewable energy facilities account only for 1 percent.
     The latest nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has once again drawn attention to the safety problems often linked with production of nuclear energy. There are many possible sources of energy, but the ability to use them always entail specific obligations. ‘The Battle of Chernobyl’ can be considered a ‘warning’ for people to treat nuclear energy with respect and to maintain awareness of the potential problems. When you do not know how to use it properly, it can have terrible consequences. Whether nuclear energy is the future remains an issue for debate. However, attaining knowledge, positive or negative, is essential to understand the advantages and the disadvantages. We are all users of electricity. The people of Ohio, including students, are potential beneficiaries of nuclear energy. In this case, we all must also understand the dangers which can arise from its misuse.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter Warm-Up

     In the midst of OU's Residence Challenge , I deemed it appropriate to discuss a few ideas that will help with conserving energy in our homes and dorm rooms. I'll start with some energy conservation advice for folks living on campus. If you are familiar with living in the OU residence halls, you know that it can get pretty stinking hot, even for our bitter winters, with the central heat on. With that said, the heating situation can get uncomfortable so naturally you may turn on the air conditioning to cool off. The thing about turning on your air is that it's using a lot of electricity to cool off the electricity produced heat, which also uses a lot of electricity. The bottom line is that there's too much unnecessary power use, to put it simply.  So what can you do to avoid wasting energy without compromising your comfort level? It's as easy as leaving your window open a crack, or using the fan mode on the air conditioning unit. It may seem kind of wasteful to let the heat escape, but it's the lesser of two evils, and air conditioners can be pretty evil if you're trying to conserve energy.
     Another main power sucker in a dorm room is the lights. The best thing to save energy here is by using a CFL bulb in the light socket (you know those funky curly-cue looking bulbs?). CFL bulbs only use a quarter of the energy that your typical incandescent bulb does, so it's easy to why you'd want to use a CFL. Now, if you aren't using a CFL bulb in your room yet, don't fret because there's a light bulb exchange program the OU Office of Sustainability has set up for students in residents halls. With this bulb swap, residents are able to exchange one incandescent bulb for one CFL bulb so everyone can have an opportunity to conserve energy. If you are interested in the CLF exchange for your residents hall just e-mail
     Lastly, when living in the residence halls it can be fairly easy to forget to turn things off when you are not using them, especially because you aren't responsible for paying the electricity bill. Just because you aren't necessarily paying for it doesn't mean you can't be an energy conscious resident! There are little check lists you can stick on your wall so as you leave your room you have a little reminder to turn off your electronics, seems easy enough, right?

     Moving on to those who live off campus in the Athens community, there are a few more winter energy conservation tips. Seeing that most of us who live off-campus have larger living areas/houses and are responsible for large amounts of laundry, dishes, and other tasks that may require the aid of an electric appliance, it can get pretty expensive and a lot less sustainable. So I looked at the things in a house that require the most energy and how to conserve in those areas and here's what I came up with:

1) Laundry Machine/Dryer: These can be energy mongers, unless you have an Energy Star machine, which not many off-campus houses do, so use the cold wash cycle instead of wasting energy on heating up the water. You can also utilize a drying rack to hang-dry clothing in order to conserve the energy a dryer would eat up.

2) Dishwasher: There is definitely a decent amount of energy involved in running this appliance, and not everyone wants to hand wash their dishes (which can actually be less efficient and more wasteful depending on your method), so don't run a half-empty dishwasher, that's the easiest way to go about saving energy with this machine. I'm not saying you have to pack the thing until the door won't close, just don't be afraid to hold off on running it until it's actually full. You can also change the settings so that it won't heat dry your dishes, and instead you can dry them by hand.

3) Central heat: Most houses have control over the thermostat so the residents can set the temperature, unlike the dorms, so don't set it too high! This is probably the easiest way to save on heating energy. Another idea is to seal your windows by stapling plastic wrap/sheets tightly to the inside walls around the window. This keeps heat in and cold drafts out. An easier way of utilizing this insulation tactic, if you don't want to/have the supplies for insulating windows with plastic, is by simply closing shades and curtains of all windows. Another tip is to be sure your doors are sealed properly. You can roll up a towel and place it at the base of doors leading outside to cut down on drafts.

     Stay Sustainable,

    Becca in Athens

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bamboozled: Is it Really the New Miracle Fiber of Sustainability?

     You may have noticed recently that stores across the country have been inundated with a myriad of household items that are made out of bamboo fibers. If you picked up on this trend, you may have asked... why?! It seems bamboo has been unofficially labeled the latest and greatest sustainable building material, so companies are starting to make everything from flooring to bed sheets out of the stuff. If you think about it, bamboo is a fairly easy plant to grow and it grows quickly, quicker than a tree at least. These two factors alone seem to have it glowing with an aura of eco-friendliness, but I'm not sure if people really understand what they are buying into when they purchase an item made from bamboo.
     I'll use an example to help break down the process of bamboo fiber manufacturing. Say you were to purchase a shirt made from bamboo fibers instead of one made from cotton, your decision may have stemmed from what you read on the tag. A lot of bamboo fiber clothing is advertised as "green", but it isn't technically environmentally friendly. The key word in this example would be "organic" but it's clearly missing from the equation. The word "green" becomes a red flag in this case. This is something a consumer needs to be aware of because "green" items can still involve the use of chemicals, whereas "organic" items don't. Although that shirt wasn't made from as devastating of a plant as cotton, there's still a manufacturing process involved and that isn't necessarily a pretty shade of green. The fibers that make up that shirt are chemically treated and then probably dyed with something that isn't good for the environment. If you're wondering whether or not there is a more sustainable alternative process to chemically manufacturing bamboo fibers, there is, but this process is particularly difficult and time consuming, so it isn't implemented.
     There is also the question of location. Where was the bamboo in the shirt grown? Was it locally grown or was it imported? If the bamboo was chemically treated and imported from a far away country it negates the "greenness" advertised on the shirt's tag. As far as clothing goes, it seems to me that bamboo is not the miracle fiber manufacturers claim it to be. So be careful when shopping for sustainable materials and make sure you are conscious of labels.  If you don't know much about the material a product is made from, a little research never hurt anyone, right?
     Although there are some unsustainable bamboo products out there, many of them are actually okay. The plant itself is a great resource because it matures so quickly and growing it isn't necessarily detrimental to the land as it doesn't need pesticides or heavy farming machinery. Purchasing a bamboo product that is in its most natural state is the ticket, and you can easily find a number of stores that carry them online. But looks can be deceiving so, it is always important to make sure an item wasn't chemically treated or imported.

     Stay Sustainable,

     Becca in Athens

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sustainable Must-haves for 2k11

     In lieu of the new year I deemed it appropriate to compile a list of, what I believe to be, 2011's must-have "green" items. You can find a lot of these gadgets for sale, but you can actually make some of them yourself and go DIY style to really kick off the new year sustainably. There have been a lot of cool "green" items introduced to the market over the past few years, but some of them aren't as innovative as you'd think. This is my narrowed down list of five truly useful and sustainable things that are accessible to anyone who wants to live more conscientiously.

In no particular order...

#1 The Reusable Coffee Cup
This is a must-have for folks that love their joe in the morning.  You can actually take these cups into a lot of coffee shops and they will prepare your drink in it at a discounted price.  I use my coffee cup a lot and it makes me feel better when I think about all the waste coffee places produce every morning. It's perfect for walking to class and it looks just like the disposable cup your coffee is normally served in.

#2 The Reusable Sandwich Bag
I once thought about how many plastic sandwich baggies my mom went through when packing my lunch when I was a kid.  Then I thought about how many moms used sandwich baggies on a daily basis across the country... kind of scary.  Now, you don't have to use this type of "bag" per se, any Tupperware container will do, I just think it's pretty nifty. You can also DIY this one, here are the instructions and materials:

1/2 yard oilcloth
4 large paper clips
1 hook and eye
2 buttons
1 thin hair elastic
Pinking shears
Sewing machine
Needle and thread

1. Cut two 101/2" x 101/2" squares out of oilcloth.
2. Place one square on top of the other, with wrong sides facing eachother (so pattern is facing outside). Slide a paper clip on each side of the square to hold pieces together as you sew.
3. Using a 1/4" seam, topstitch the two pieces together. Adjust the paper clips as you go to keep the oilcloth from sliding.
4. Trim around the edges of sewn square with pinking shears.
5. Lay the square so that one of the corners is pointing at you, like a diamond. Fold left and right corners toward the center so the tip of the points overlap by about 1". Repeat with top and bottom corners to create an envelope. Run a fingernail over the edges to form a crease.
6. Open the top flaps so that only the left and right corners are folded in. Hand-sew a hook about 1/8" inside the tip of the right corner flap. Hand-sew the eye on the left flap, leaving enough space inside for a sandwich (you can gauge this by using two pieces of bread).
7. Sew buttons on top and bottom corner flaps, about 1 1/2" from each tip (again allowing room for a sandwich).
8.Place hair band over top button and pinch around button with your fingers to create two loops. With needle and thread, tack the elastic so the top loop stays firmly around the top button and the bottom loop slips easily onto the other button.

#3 Sprouting Kit
This is a long standing sustainable practice that is really easy and works year round. You can sprout all kinds of seeds (my favorite is alfalfa) and use them in sandwiches, salads, etc. You can purchase a sprouting kit but it's fairly simple to DIY. All I use when I sprout is a mason jar with mesh over top for when you rinse the seeds. Click here for one of many links that will explain how to make a sprouting kit in more detail.  

#4 The SKOY Cloth
I think that everyone needs something similar to this product. Even if you don't want to purchase this type of thing, you can just use rags or wash cloths instead of paper towels. Paper towels create a lot of unnecessary waste that we don't stop and think about when we need to clean up a spill quickly, so I think it's a great idea to get in the habit of grabbing a reusable, washable, dishtowel instead of a disposable one.  

#5 Water Powered Alarm Clock
This gadget is pretty self explanatory, but totally cool.  It's completely powered by water, which means no coal powered electricity attached!

     If you have any additions to my list please feel free to leave a comment, I appreciate hearing from anyone who reads my blog as it allows other readers a different perspective than my own and sometimes teaches me a thing or two. Also, if you have any other ideas about posts or topics you'd like to learn more about in the realm of sustainability drop me a comment and I'll try my darndest to answer your questions or concerns in its own new post. 

     Stay Sustainable,

     Becca in Athens


Monday, October 25, 2010

The 411 On Fish

     When many of us think of fishing, we picture someone on a warm sunny day sitting on a dock or in a little row boat dozing off while they wait for the bite. It's an activity that seems innocent enough, perhaps borderline boring for those of us who have less patience when it comes to finding dinner. But fishing is a much more devastating notion than the leisurely activity we picture.
     Fish populations have plummeted due to overfishing, which simply means that we are taking more fish out of the ocean than can be naturally restored. Overfishing statistics are shocking - according to, a staggering 90% of large predatory fish stocks (such as tuna and cod) are already gone. I definitely don't think many people know or think about this devastation before they purchase a tuna sandwich for lunch.  This poses the problem of different fish populations eventually becoming extinct, in turn affecting a whole number of other animals within the ecosystem
     Overfishing is a catastrophe in its own right, but why should you care? Well, it goes beyond saving fishies in the sea merely because we are supposed to protect dwindling animal populations. If you look more closely you can see that there is an ecosystem, beside our bellies, that relies on these fish populations.  Think about the animals that rely on overfished stocks for food, they have nothing to eat so they die off. Now think about what happens to the animals that rely on the animals dieing from overfishing, or the animals that rely on the animals that rely on... (you get the idea). It creates a large gap in, or completely destroys an ecosystem, and disrupting an ecosystem can cause greater problems in the overall environment and for us.
     The idea of standing up and refraining from eating certain species of fish which have been overfished is a notable one, but the problem is that pretty much all fish are overfished.  Even the fish that we don't eat.  The process of fishing, in general, is devastating, 27 million tons of fish per year are discarded after they are caught and killed. That's 27 million tons of fish that aren't even given the chance to end up in our stomachs. Commercial fishing tactics are mostly to blame for this problem.  Nets used to fish on a large scale catch many other species than those targeted, most of which are discarded because they're unwanted or already dead when reeled in. This may be a familiar concept to those who remember when tuna companies were outed for accidentally trapping dolphins, and subsequently killing many of them.  Well, this is still going on with many more species than dolphins, and it's still causing problems.  So, I challenge you to make, yet another, sustainable choice in your life (if you feel empowered), and refrain from consuming commercially caught fish with me. How about it?     So where do you fit into the overfishing conundrum? You are right in the middle of it - as a consumer of fish.  You may ask, "Well, what am I supposed to do about it?" or "How can I help to make the fishing industry more sustainable?"  There's a myriad of things you can do, but I think the most pronounced way of taking a stand on the matter is to cut fish that are commercially caught or fish altogether out of your diet. Yes, that's right, just don't eat it! I'm not saying that we should take our frustrations out on fish and berate their deliciousness, and I know that many people rely on fish in order to maintain a healthy diet (i.e. vegetarians), but perhaps we should research before we purchase. Read labels, figure out how far away the fish was caught, and research what methods were used to harvest them. It's not a matter of punishing ourselves or giving up something we enjoy eating, it becomes a matter of priority and principle.  What do we value? Why? What are the alternatives?
     For those who are concerned about cutting fish out of their diets because of nutritional purposes, there are alternate ways that we can obtain the same kind of nutrients found in fish. A major nutritious component found in fish are their omega-3's, which are also found in flax seed and soybeans. Protein is another big one, but protein is found in, well, a lot of other foods: nuts, grains, beans, tofu, and sprouts to name a few. So, I challenge you to make, yet another, sustainable choice in your life (if you feel empowered), and refrain from consuming commercially caught fish or fish altogether with me. How about it?
     If you are more interested in this topic check out the movie, End of the Line, showing at Alden Library in Room 319 on Wednesday from 5:00pm-7:00pm, hope to see you there.

     Stay Sustainable,

     Becca in Athens