One slice of the Feelings Wheel

I think many of us have had a really hard week. I am having a hard time showing up for life lately. Maybe it's the online conversations with people in my social sphere being overtly racist or trying to navigate how family voting practices run contrary to equal civil rights for me and others -- or maybe it's SAD. Just kidding! It's totally the racists and lack of regard for equal civil rights or safety. 

A few situations have brought the violence too close to home. We're NYC. Violence against folks that are being "othered" has always happened here, just less so than other places. Like most others areas we're seeing a spike post-election. But I am most afraid for "othered" people in less liberal areas.  Queer friends who the day before election had their car trashed with candidate signs and garbage to send a message (swing state!). And much worse. (You have the internet for that.) Then, there are the cabinet appointments. A collective track record of xenophobia, pro-life, anti-queer stuff. The term of W seems downright quaint these days. 

One day in, I protest rallied for visibility. Four days in, I dropped the online conversations about racism, xenophobia, fear and common ground that were going nowhere despite my best efforts using all the regular old tools of mediation and mirroring and trying to find commonality. I think both sides of the conversation felt like we were trying but to no avail. I gave up on some social media platforms. I watched a family member on the "other side" do the same because of the level of vitriol and violence on both sides. And checked out. Meaning, still present and watching out for others when I'm out (and having semi-awkward conversations with my chiropractor about the purpose of protests) but really retreating inward as much as possible. Many episodes of Call the Midwife were watched. And regularly scheduled stuff still happened. A second sewing lesson was had. Cats went to the vet. I finally subscribed to the NYTimes (okay, that one is election-related).

It's been a challenge to identify feelings other than anger, sadness, despondency, depression, anxiety, etc but eventually things like gratitude (NYC, Brooklyn, friends, fighters, my health) and determination seeped back in. Slowly. 

{feelings wheel by Dr. Gloria Wilcox}

This week I'm just staying on top of self-care and high level news developments. And thinking about how I can and will use my energy moving forward. And doing my best to keep my side of the street clean. No matter how bitter I get. 

I am sure I'll be around in a bit. But for now.

Peace out, dudes. Please take care of yourself...and anyone else if you have the means.


Well, I tried and I'll keep trying: a packaging waste story.

After my last post, on trying to be more mindful about packaging waste, I made a few changes. As so many people who actually put the work into the Zero Waste challenge realized, it's very very hard to make no mistakes and as Elizabeth mentioned over at The Note Passer, it's not entirely productive to put the responsibility on just the consumers. (Her post is a good read so please go read the whole thing!) Overall shifts need to be made in how companies are allowed to package things and how we consume things. But I do think that we can make small changes as consumers -- and I think if you're being mindful about those changes, you're also more willing to look for and get behind systemic changes. 

These are the small changes I made as I started trying to keep packaging waste on the mind.

1. unpackaged soap by Sappo Hill

This is one of the no or very minimally-packaged soaps at my regular grocery jam. Honestly I used to use this soap all the time but got a little bored with it and started picking different brands that had various smells. Smells aren't more important than the earth to me - and frankly Sappo Hill soap is pretty good anyway - so I went back to it. Also, I always read it as Sappho Hill soap and my internal dialogue is always, "Who wouldn't want to buy soap named after a lesbian? Well done." While that's not the case, it seems to be a good company nonetheless.

I haven't figured out shampoo, conditioner and Manic Panic yet. Shampoo bars have historically not worked well for me so...we'll work that one out in the future.

2. Meal Planning, Lunch-Packing

I've been a little more diligent about packing my lunches daily, and making bulk foods that don't require packaging. Each week I usually make a batch of brown rice and a batch of bulk beans ever since I got an Instant Pot. The Instant Pot has literally changed how I eat. I like to bring "modular" lunch bowls: a grain, a protein and a vegetable.  Making rice and beans weekly takes care of 2 of those categories. It also allows me to buy rice and beans in bulk (both eco and cheap) -- and it is so easy to make decent rice and bulk dry beans in an Instant Pot! (If I had to be a cheerleader for something, first it would be cats. Then it would be veganism. Then it would be the Instant Pot.) Anyway, the vegetables here also came with no packaging at the point of our purchase (winter squash, romansco cauliflower). The lunch bowl is leak-proof and I love it because it's stainless steel and doesn't retain smells and is easy to clean (oils, sauces, etc.). It will last forever and I've already had it a few years. (In typical Jesse-style, I have 2 sizes.)

I did forget my lunch one day in the past two weeks and ended up ordering takeout from Fresh & Co because I really wanted to try their new vegan tomato poke in a salad. I ended up with plastic to downcycle that day. I love that Fresh & Co tries to push the envelope with their vegan options and I do want to support that with my dollas. So, a packaging loss but a mainstream vegan win.

3. full head of lettuce

I am weirdly picky about my lettuce. We used to get the bulk mixed greens but I noticed some of the more delicate lettuces got soft and slimy way quicker...and I like crisp lettuces that are easy to rinse and uh, look through. (Our food co-op once had a frog found - alive! - in our bulk greens. Thankfully it was rescued but I had nightmares thinking about it in our salad spinner and the poor thing ending up in a bite of salad -- please kill me if this ever happens to me.) Anyway, I like to be able to rinse and examine each leaf of lettuce like a maniac so I prefer romaine or butterhead lettuces so I can confirm that there are no baby frogs or other species alive babes in my salad. The bagged hearts of romaine are my preference but I decided that I could be an adult who picks through and rinses her own head of lettuce so I can avoid the bag. So now we get a head of romaine. 

Our carrots and cukes are overwhelmingly purchased as bulk from the produce aisle and I get two canned toppings for salads (hearts of palm, water packed artichokes - both by Native Forest) so those cans are recyclable. We did have some flavored tofu (protein!) in this salad, which came in plastic, which is not recyclable. Basically all our tofu comes in non-recyclable plastic so I am unsure how to get around that. 

4. on-the-go drinks

Usually when I'm out and I have forgotten my trusty mason jar or Klean Kanteen (or there is no obvious free source of water but there are stores), I will buy a drink. I usually begrudgingly buy a bottle of water when I'm stuck. But this time I thought, "I should get a can. Aluminium is more easily recycled." And thus, I tried my very first La Croix (it was fine). I will look for canned seltzers in the future. 

5. homemade soy yogurt

In a move I can't really justify as eco-friendly, I purchased a second Instant Pot. I didn't realize that only some versions of the Instant Pot had a yogurt button and the one I grabbed on sale on Amazon first did not have such a button. I figured I'd use two Instant Pots simultaneously enough times to warrant two, and made the purchase. The huge bonus is that now we can make our own soy yogurt -- before we used to purchase individual yogurts in small plastic pots or one large plastic tub. Now we purchase 1 tetrapack soymilk, 1 cardboard-boxed and plastic-bottled acidophilus and some cashews (hopefully via bulk in the future) and we make our own yogurt. (And those probiotics last a while.) I'm kind of into it. It's one of those things that always sounded really hard but is actually pretty easy. I'm hoping homemade bread will be the same situation. 

6. on-the-go lunch

Last night I forgot to pack my lunch, although I did jar up some homemade soy yogurt and grabbed a banana for my breakfast. I was near a grocery this morning on my way to work and figured I'd just buy lunch there instead of ordering takeout again ($$$, and also more packaging). I figured I could reduce packaging if I bought my lunch at a grocery store since I'd have more knowledge of how stuff is packaged in advance of purchasing it, unlike takeout -- and I was right. I ended up with a can of Amy's lentil soup (can! recyclable!) and an everything bagel (which required a sheet of waxed paper for me to procure the bagel from the bulk bin in a sanitary and socially-accepted manner). That is what a banana looks like after I shove it in my tote bag, and we take our trip on the subway to my office. 

Thankfully I had my coffee in my mason jar with trusty Cuppow lid so I was covered there. 

There were plenty of mistakes along the way, too! The very sleepy morning I was at the vet with one of my cats (whose name I couldn't remember as I was checking in...for a good 10 seconds) caused me to buy an iced coffee (plastic cup and straw!) when I was waiting for her services to be finished and her to be released to me. I thought about the straw but didn't see a way around navigating the vet office, Uber and carrying her carrier without a straw so I gave in. 

But also plenty of the good stuff stayed. We still compost. We recycle what we can. We use food scraps for soup stock. We buy a lot of bulk. I have a wonderful array of reusable products for coffee, tea, eating, etc. 

But I think overall, I did shift some habits and that's what I was looking for -- progress, not absolute perfection. 


The Zero Waste Challenge (that I'm not actually doing)

I applaud the bloggers over at the Ethical Writers Coalition for taking on the Zero Waste Challenge and diligently tracking and writing about their experiences. I've tried to do plastic-free challenges and waste challenges before and boy howdy, are they eye-opening! You go about your everyday life and realize that 90% of everything you touch produces waste and you feel like you're doing everything wrong. The idea of "zero waste" seems like a Herculean - nay, 1,000% impossible - effort. No? Just me?

While I said nope to the open invitation that the coalition had extended for everyone to participate in the Zero Waste Challenge, I thought it would be a good opportunity to just be mindful about waste again. I logged the waste associated with my actions or purchases for a few days (quickly becoming head-spinningly frustrated, as expected) and just tried to be mindful for a few more. 

clockwise from top left:
- my post-it note notes from each day (themselves, recyclable)
- homemade soy yogurt smoothie (semi-minimal waste for a homemade food)
- hand wipe from Ethiopian restaurant brunch, unexpected
- veggie scraps soup stock, used and then composted

Here is where I need some work in the effort to go "zero waste":

  • Packaged food. I still buy a lot of stuff in packages, even though I also buy a lot in bulk and use bulk bags at the food co-op. Stuff like salad greens, soy milk, pasta, mock meat, frozen veggies, coconut and other oils, lip balm, herb tea pellets, chocolate bars.
  • Convenience food. Vending machine at work. Forgetting to ask for no straws as a restaurant. Not realizing I'm getting a handwipe and then using it. Buying an iced coffee or iced tea out when I don't have my travel mason jar with me. Also, ordering food for delivery at home (or work, if I forgot to bring lunch). Look, I don't have ESP to tell me when I'll get junk in a restaurant but I can at least try to reduce the takeout and anticipate that I'll be getting a straw if I order something iced. 
  • Too much. I don't buy only what I need and I make a lot of impulse purchases, which I justify as "ethical" if they are vegan and cruelty-free, often not thinking of the cradle-to-grave concept, especially with packaging and actual ingredients/components and manufacturing waste. I don't care how much "ethical" stuff I buy - it's very possible to buy wastefully even if that's all you're buying. 

Here is where I'm already doing well - a lot of try/fail and sometimes I still forget:
  • Non-packaged foods. I try to get a lot of fruits and vegetables in my diet so stuff like bananas, apples, cooking greens, squashes, cauliflower, broccoli, (most) tomatoes, etc are all not packaged.
  • Bulk bags for bulk foods. While I sometimes forget and use a plastic bag for them, I try to buy bulk at our food co-op for stuff like brown rice, dry beans, loose fruit and veggies and we re-use the same coffee bags for our Ethiopian Equal Exchange bulk coffee beans. 
  • Composting. We aren't in the area of NYC where we have public composting bins yet but we do save our compost and bring it to a drop-off location. We save anything that might get fruit flies (basically, fruit) in a bag in the freezer and everything else in an old bucket near our kitchen window to avoid fruit flies. Our coffee grounds and non-usable food scraps go in there. We've started saving the some of the "usable" veggie scraps in our freezer for soup stock (and once used, that stuff goes into the compost pile as well). If I bring something for lunch that can be composted (banana peel, apple core), I'll shove it in my lunch container or the mason jar I used for coffee that morning and bring it home to compost it. 
  • Travel dishes and flatware for everyday life. I have a 16oz and 20oz mason jar I use with my Cuppow lid for water and coffee. I also have an REI insulated stainless steel mug I use for both. I have a stainless steel silicone-ring sealing lunch bowl in small and large. I have metal flatware and bowls at my desk at work. I have a titanium Snow Peak spork (2 supposedly) that I try to bring when I'm traveling or think I might need it. And I have a plastic water cup with straw at my desk at work in addition to a glass water glass. I have metal straws at home. I use the travel cups, water glass and lunch bowls almost every weekday. The rest is hit or miss in terms of how prepared I am for my daily activities. 

It's hard to think about every single day and feel like a real victor. There are weeks where I don't have it together enough to make coffee and prep lunches and I get takeout coffee and lunches (and sometimes dinners) all week, where I am basically surfing a pile of trash right into turtles' faces and birds' bellies and it feels like crap and I don't like to think about it much. But I try to make myself right the ship and try, try, try again. 

I think the easiest way for me to improve towards zero waste overall is to pick one or two things I can change as habit and work on those. While I don't always stick to them forever, once they're a habit I've had, I can easily return to them. For instance, I am used to bringing my own coffee in a travel vessel and bringing my own lunch in a metal container. I am used to buying beans and rice in bulk in canvas bags. I'm used to re-using the same bag for coffee beans. All of those things are easy to hop back into now, if I am straying. I'm reminding myself again that bringing coffee and bringing my lunch daily saves a lot of container waste. 

What's next? 

  • I will work on my Straw Problem. (I have metal straws at home but don't carry them around so I just need to anticipate and refuse straws when I'm out.) 

  • I will see what else I can buy in bulk. Our food co-op has bulk pasta and I never buy it. I will check out the bulk aisle again and see what I can purchase from those bins that I'm buying packaged anyway. Same thing with the produce - I buy packaged romaine hearts for salad greens but maybe I can go back to the mixed greens I like less, but that come in bulk. 

Anyway, thanks to the bloggers over at the Ethical Writers Coalition - who I think still have another week to go! I was glad to get the kick in the pants to think about this more critically again, and at a time when I can hear others' experiences as they really throw themselves into the challenge. I'm looking forward to reading their experiences and seeing what changes they've thought to make in their routines! 


Don't feel bad about paying a tailor to do something you'll never actually do.

I find myself posting here less and less because I wear a lot of the same stuff. Which is great. I no longer have a ton of angst over what to wear or buy and I'm not sure exactly what changed but...actually, who cares?

I feel like I'll pop in here to either share a brand I found or like, share vegan, "green" or labor standards stuff or just to say "hey, this is my uniform" and while I wish I was better at DIY projects, they usually fall by the wayside. But today I do have some semi-DIY news - I am wearing a Mary Meyer galaxy biggie shirt. (I think that's the name of the cut.) 

Originally the neck opening of this shirt was just way too big and the shirt fell off my shoulders. (Something I find with Uzi's one-size stuff, too.) And it was such a bummer because I thought I'd wear it but then realized how much I hated it either being a one-shouldered shirt or it drooping down my back as a semi-backless shirt. Thankfully before I stuck it in the give-away pile, I realized I could bring it to a tailor and have them just make it a more normal neck seam. They'd just need to bring in the neck hole and round off the extra fabric on the inside, near my shoulders. It was a fairly affordable fix for a shirt I'd already dumped some money on - and now I still get to wear it. MEND AND MAKE DO AND ALL. 

I'm glad I finally came to terms with "outsourcing" my DIY because if I left it up to me dragging out the sewing machine and realizing I need to re-learn how to thread my bobbin for the 50th time in my life, it would never have been completed. So that's my lesson - don't feel bad about paying a tailor to do something you'll never actually do. 


Make It Good's fall/winter season and how I wiped out my budget

You know how in grade school you end up rotating through a number of best friends in succession? Things change, you outgrow each other or maybe you're just not as tight and you start hanging out with someone else because they just fit you better? I feel like I do that with brands. My new best friend has been Make It Good (previously it was Mary Meyer - I liked the bathing suit patterns this year but I just don't need butt cheek hanging out of the bathing suit bottoms). Make It Good has pulled out a few seasons where one or two pieces are just a really good (style) fit for me. 

This fall/winter, I got these two pieces. I believe this nubby ("pebble knit") sweater dress was in their last fall/winter season (as were the nubby cardigan and maybe the crew neck sweater too) but I couldn't pull the trigger and they sold out. Not this year! This dress on the left is exactly like the one I already have in gray from this year's spring/summer season but in a pattern. (They're still on their way so I don't have them quite yet.)

Since these are US-made and Make It Good tries to carefully source their textiles, they've got a solid price tag on them. It's all relative - people spend the same (and more) on brands that have no labor claims all the time, I guess. But yes, they're not cheap or very accessible. (Again, all relative, I guess.) I ended up wiping out my clothing allowance until around November by buying these. This budget glitch should be okay -- the only things I foresee needing are a better pair of wet and cold weather boots (walkable) and some more vegan and winter-appropriate socks. And frankly I can probably ask for socks for Xmas. (Yes, we're that kind of family. Xmas by request.)

Things I probably have enough of for this coming fall/winter:
- coats
- shirts, sweaters
- cardigans
- jeans/pants
- non-weather specific shoes
- scarves, hats, gloves

Not that you need to read this boring list -- but I need to post it to remind myself. Seriously, you have enough. Maybe do some laundry regularly and then you won't feel like you have no clothes, Myself.


Too Much Lipstick

While my apparel purchases have remained somewhat in check, I noticed I thought nothing of picking up a new lip balm or lipstick pretty much constantly. I wear some form of lip stuff every day and so it felt justified. But now I have a bunch to get through before it's too old so I'm hereby calling myself out on this BS and making a commitment to using it up. 

It's not just the actual lip stuff I have green-guilt about, but they all have packaging - usually plastic packaging - that just gets tossed in recycling (whether it can actually be recycled, I have no idea). 

In semi-related news, someone posted this photo on Instagram (was it you?) and I originally thought it was eye makeup in Aquafresh toothpaste colors. Turns out it's the I-talian flag (represent!) but now I'm really obsessed about someone doing their makeup Aquafresh colors. That would be pretty much the best! 


Vegan Food in Paris

We were supposed to be in Paris for an additional day but apparently both my boyfriend and I are horrible with time management and estimating how long it takes to get places (and leave the house) that we missed our first flight and had to fly out the next day. So, that was pretty cool. We missed dinner plans at Gentle Gourmet with our friends, who told us it was like average NYC vegan food and nothing to write home about. Though I have another friend who previously had a delicious dinner there so, your mileage may vary.

We are grateful that our friends were there the week before us (and we had a little overlap while they were still there) -- so we not only got to see them but also take all of their recommendations.

Le Potager du Marais - I could probably start and end on the appetizer: french onion soup with  bread and slabs of "cheese" on top. I mean. I literally had to stop typing to fondly reflect on that soup. We had one delicious and one just-okay entree followed by two chocolate-based desserts (they'd just run out of the creme brulee!) The hazelnut flour chocolate cake came out warm and was totally delicious. You need a reservation here, mostly likely. We managed to squeeze in with seating for 2 but just barely and at first we were told no. So, may the force be with you. If I was in Paris again, I'd eat here every single night. 

Vegan Folie's - You may know that, like most humans, I love dessert. So I made my boyfriend rush to Vegan Folie's before it closed on our way to Montemarte to see the sunset from the Sacre Coeur steps. The only thing they had left was cheesecake and a brownie, and I (usually) love cheesecake, so we got two slices - berry and I think hazelnut. I don't know if it was an off day or what but the slices reminded me of what health food stores in the '90s passed off as dessert. Like, a hunk of tofu in the blender with some sweetener and toppings. You can see from the photo that it looks more like raw tofu than a creamy cheesecake. I feel super American right now but I'd gladly take a freezer-case Daiya cheesecake over these. I rarely turn down dessert but I didn't even finish eating either slice. (From two different cheesecakes...so it's less likely it was a glitch in one cake.) We have friends who liked the cheesecake they got there the week earlier and there are plenty of happy vegans over at Happy Cow. However, I wish I had actually just purchased the Vego bar that my boyfriend jokingly suggested I buy when I couldn't decide which cheesecake flavors to get. Hopefully your experience there is different than mine!

Hank's Vegan Burger - Based on many recommendations, we made it to Hank's Vegan Burger. I liked everything we ordered - their fries, their burgers and the delicious toppings. I'm not usually a veggie burger fan because they so often run the risk of either being a hockey puck or a bland, falling apart grain-and-veggie patty but these were solid options that I'd be happy to have regularly! I am hungry just thinking about them. We ended up eating at a park (hence the chess table) because it was wicked hot that day and their upstairs seating was like a charming, collegial oven.

Un Monde Vegan - Vegan grocery shop in Paris! Since we had an Airbnb and were taking a train between Paris and Amsterdam, our plan was to get some breakfast stuff, a "picnic lunch" for the train and a picnic dinner by the canal where everyone hangs out one night. They had an entire wall and then some devoted to their vegan cheeses so I choose according to a Veg Society UK cheese tasting scorecard that I pulled up on my phone. (Go, Internet!) I liked all of the cheeses we got - No Muh, Sojami (the best!), Jay & Joy. The lunchmeat was fine. The Faux Gras reminded me of liverwurst - I think? - but I liked it! Especially paired with the No Muh classic on bread. (That mushroom tartine on the right ended up being pretty much my only sustenance when I got stuck at an airport hotel with no food options, overnight, awaiting my flight the next morning. That and ginger cookies. Yep, I ate ginger cookies with mushroom tartine with my travel spork - and I was happy to even have that.)

The chocolates I tried were all fine but the Vego was the clear winner. I think I'm losing my taste for the really sweet "milk" chocolate. Some of these are still in my apartment waiting to be opened, actually. (The Bonvita Rice Milk ones are gone already though - all 3 of them.)

Honorable mention - we were able to get plain soy yogurt at the regular local grocery! In the United States of America, we do not have this option. (We barely had it when WholeSoy was still in business but it definitely wasn't at my local grocery.) The Sojasun was a nice thing to be able to have! (Now we've started making our own soy yogurt in our Instant Pot Duo so hopefully I'll become less bitter about this over time.)

Brasserie Lola - Thanks to our friends, we also got to try this all-vegan brasserie. I got a Monte Cristo and it was totally suitable. This isn't fine dining but it is all vegan and it's totally serviceable!  The folks working there were super nice and there is outdoor seating available. 

That's it for Paris! We lost a day due to our tardiness so we didn't get to try as much as we would have liked but we did cover some ground.