Naturally everyone in my Environmental Geography class must have a concern for, or at least interest in the world around them, or they would not be there. As for myself, I’ve always had an empathetic heart towards the world around me and am a humanitarian by nature (or by astrological terms, if you believe in that sort of stuff). Though I can trace being aware of issues of nature since I was a young girl—with Dad always gardening and having fresh fruits and vegetables nearby, and Mom going out of her way to collect her coworkers’ recyclables to make sure they ended up at a recycling center—I personally became environmentally aware when I casually decided to become a vegetarian at age 13. That spontaneous decision was only the seed of what is currently growing into a full-throttle, tree-hugging hippy lifestyle. Well, I definitely wouldn’t go that far, but I do have a huge respect and adoration for nature. My problem is (as with the rest of the “somewhat aware” world is the time and place I live in. I still don’t fully understand the luxury that running water and built-in plumbing truly is. I mean, when I visited the Philippines at age 10, at my grandparents’ farmhouse we had to use a water pump to fill a bucket and use that to flush the toilet bowl. The saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down,” might be funny to me in America, but on Grandpa’s farm it was real life. Also, did you know chicken tastes better when you kill it an hour before eating it? Who knew!? Even with the current “green” craze that is going on, I feel I’ve lost touch with that appreciation I felt on the farm… or maybe I’ve never truly appreciated it. I really don’t know. I was only on the farm for a few weeks, a month at most. For my lifestyle project, I’d like to focus on areas that are essential to all life. No matter who you are or where you’re from or even what time period you live in, water and nourishment are essential to existence, which is why I will concentrate on water use and food choices during these next three weeks. Because waste generation is inextricably linked to these two things, I will also examine how my lone- accumulated waste affects the environmental footprint I am leaving on our earth.
Every morning I wake up at 5:30 and my hot, steamy shower is the only thing that has potential to be remotely promising for my day to come. It’s perfection: for 20 minutes, I am still half sleeping and I’m being flushed with the warmth and comfort the water provides. I will reduce my showers to having the showerhead running for 5-7 minutes. I will do this by only turning on the showerhead when in need of rinsing—after lathering hair and body, shaving, exfoliating face, etc. Although I must do laundry once a week due to having only one available day to complete the chore, I will conserve water by using fewer clothes and whatever else I usually put in the laundry for a one week period. By doing this, loads will be smaller and ultimately less water will be used. I have become accustomed to buying plastic water bottles. I have wanted to get a water filtration device and aluminum water bottle for a long while now, but because I am trying to be a frugal college student, I just… haven’t gotten around to it. It is much easier to spend $2.99 every week-and-a-half or two on a 24-pack of water bottles than shelling out $25 or so on a water filtration device and $15 on a good water bottle. I guess now is the perfect time to do it, right?
I was an ovo- lacto- vegetarian for almost 7 years and added on fish to my diet for the last 3 years, making me a pescatarian. When I first decided to become a vegetarian at age 13, to be frank, I had no idea what I was doing. Coming from a family of omnivores, I had to learn how to make meals for myself. Since I was just a kid, for the first year or so I struggled with my diet, learning that eating foods with nutritional value and finding a way to get protein were essential to good health. Through these obstacles, I learned a great deal about health, my body, food, and cooking. And because my love for food and cooking grew over the years, so did my desire to try different foods and attempt new ways of cooking, which is why I am currently an omnivore. As much as I want to hug a cow, when its loin is cooked to perfection, oddly enough, it also tastes really good. In the beginning of this year, I was beginning to realize how important food really is in my life. I began to really examine the past seven years and how food has been at one point or another, my greatest enemy and my best friend. I’ve struggled with eating disorders and self image at the same time I had a passion for cooking and the purpose of food on a cultural and social level. The beginning of this epiphany first began (as embarrassing as this is for me) when I was watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, was one of her special guests, and the theme of the show was basically focused on and covering all aspects of how America eats. It was during this show that I told myself I’d go “semi-vegetarian” again: only eating meat 1-2 times a week (with the only exception being if it was naturally raised, I could go ahead and indulge at any time). I also made a list of rules for myself (which may or may have not been stolen from Pollan’s list) concerning this new and ideal diet that was both sustainable and healthy.
1) “Eat food that rots.” There are so many things that we now can leave in the pantry for months and months and they never go bad. I had a conversation with a customer at my job the other day, and she told me that her sister’s house caught on fire and the Twinkies in her pantry didn’t burn. THEY DIDN’T BURN, YA’LL.
2) “Only eat things that my grandmother would recognize as food.” I’m not limiting myself to foods that only my cute Filipino grandmother would eat, but things that any person, from any place and time could eat without having to question if it is food or not. I’m just saying Lola Salud probably wouldn’t reach for the hot cheetos. One more anecdote: once a customer told me that she has an ant infestation every summer. This year her daughter left a bag of Takis chips in her room. The ants got to it… and they all died. Forget getting Raid all over your furniture, use Takis!
3) “Read the ingredients in my food, and if I can’t pronounce something or don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.” This is truly the hardest one for me personally. It’s SO hard for a number of reasons. First, I’m a frugal college student. Good food = good money. Second, loving foods as much as I do, this past year it’s been hard to find new foods and products which I love that abide by this. Third, it’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll look up potassium bicarbonate when I get home so I’ll be justified in eating this.” With my busy schedule, I don’t want to be googling ingredients when I get home after a very long day. I want to watch Psych. I want to sleep.
Although I had this epiphany at the beginning of the year, I haven’t stuck to it 100%. Yes, I have made some changes, but I’m taking this lifestyle project as my wake-up call. By choosing foods that are natural while refraining from eating any sort of processed foods; buying 50% more organically than I do currently; and by revisiting the ovo- lacto- vegetarian diet of my youth, I will hope to better appreciate where my food comes from and the hard work [of other people] and [ultimately limited] resources it took to bring it from nature to my plastic Tupperware.
Lastly, and definitely not least, is my waste. Like I said, definitely not least. When it comes to waste management, I can be pretty lazy. I think I am a reflection of the epitome of America (in a green sense): I have good intention (with being empathetic towards nature and wanting to hug cows), but after my healthy, natural meal, I don’t want to clean up. I want to leave the dishes in the sink and let someone else take care of it. It’s the, “I cooked, you clean” concept my family always adheres to after get-togethers. Sure, I separate my plastics and glass from the rest of the trash, but I could be doing a lot more. During the next three weeks, I will be managing my waste output by starting waste bins in my home, have one bin each for aluminum and metals, glass, plastic, cardboard and paper, and unrecyclable trash. As for food scraps which usually end up in the trash (or sneakily given to my two dogs Alphee and Olive), I will begin a compost pile in my backyard. This has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but being the lazy person that I am, I just haven’t gotten around to it. It will be a great investment—making sure that nothing goes to waste and also nourishing my beautiful garden. It will be a slap in the face to my wallet, but I warm hug to my empathetic heart who’d usually throw food in the garbage while thinking of the malnourished African babies the television has etched in my mind.