Waste not

On Memorial Day weekend when many Americans are chowing down and drinking to their hearts’ content, I think a lot about all the food being tossed in the trash can. Think about it for a second. How much of our food goes down the kitchen drain and the garbage disposal? How much goes in those airless plastic bags destined for a landfill?

Quite a bit according to the EPA, which estimates that Americans waste more than 34 million tons of food each year – 14 percent of municipal solid wastes. So when we see those growing landfills we probably need to look in the mirror, and at our dinner plates. Only an estimated 3 percent of our food waste does NOT reach the landfill. Imagine walking into a 90,000 seat football stadium to see it filled with food. That’s what Americans toss away in ONE DAY according to Jonathan Bloom*, author of “American Wasteland.”

In a world with a growing fresh water shortage and a food crisis in a number of regions around the world, perhaps it is time we be a little more mindful about our consumption on the most basic level.

At a loss on where to start? Little things make a big difference:

  • Ordering Fish and Chips? Ask them to leave off the tartar sauce if you don’t usually eat it.
  • Like your water straight-up? Same deal: tell your waiter, “No lemon, please.”
  • French fries: use smaller amounts of ketchup as you eat and add more as you go.
  • Not a fan of the pickle? Ask them to leave it off, or give it to a friend at the table.
  • Don’t hurt your leftover’s feelings: take them home to enjoy later. Traveling? Many hotels have mini-fridges for their guests if you request it. You could keep your leftovers there for the next evening.
  • Freeze! Did you make too much soup or casserole? I do all the time – on purpose. Freeze your leftovers for lunch at work (Pyrex makes great glass 2-cup containers). Bonus: keeping your fridge and freezer half-full (but not packed solid) actually helps it cool more efficiently!

Want a couple “big” ideas?

  • Compost! Read what the EPA has to say about that here. Petition your local government to include composting as a part of the municipal waste management. Seattle does it. So could your town!
  • Open a restaurant! Every item that is returned uneaten could be composted. AND you could feature an “a la carte” menu so people only order the dishes and sides they want. How many people would rather have the salad than the fries? Imagine the cut in waste if we could pick and choose what appeared on our plates!
  • And of course there are the biggies: install a grey water system, plant native plants to your region in your yards, collect your rain water, and so on.

For more tips I have “reblogged” a post by The Frugal Goddess. She has a very practical perspective about food waste. For those less concerned with the world-wide issue of over-consumption The Frugal Goddess also addresses the hit our wallet takes when we waste.  Us Americans waste around 27 percent of the food we purchase, according to Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas*. Maybe we can start to change that figure! It always starts with you!

(*Bloom and Webber quotes referenced via this article by Hugh Collins for AOL.)

Food Waste: Why We Do It and How We Can Stop When I first began studying the art and science of frugality I looked at many lists that claimed to be the top five or ten money wasters. I found that most of the items on the list were mere opinions. But one category stood out as being accurate and useful—the dead waste. These are not spending decisions, but rather mistakes. The parking ti … Read More

via The Frugal Goddess

“Foot in Mouth” syndrome and the “Curse of Considerate Clarification”

Aside

I’ve been told a few times that I make people think exactly what I didn’t want them to think. Let me explain. For some reason, in addition to putting my foot in my mouth by accident, I manage to make others suspicious of hidden agendas in my words because of the very things I say.

Here’s a stunning example of “Foot in Mouth” syndrome:

I was at the art opening of a gifted photographer last night. We had been students together in graduate school. During our visit, I recalled that he had recently been married. I was preparing to ask how things were going when I recalled a previous experience with the same artist. Not three years earlier I asked, “How’s Suzzy?” after having met his girlfriend weeks before. He awkwardly replied, “We’re not together any more.” UG! The artist–being a quiet man–had nothing left to say, and I–dumbfounded–had nothing to say either. The next three years were filled with many uncomfortable visits in which I could never establish a good speaking rapport with this nice man.

So, here I am preparing to ask after his new wife, thinking, Oh dear, what if they didn’t get married or they’re divorced or something? I didn’t want to have the awkward silence again. All these thoughts were spinning in my mind as I said, “So, are you still married?”  Still?!  STILL!!!!???? Not, “How’s your wife?” or “How is it being a newlywed?” or “I heard you got hitched. How’d it go?”  Nope. STILL. I can’t believe myself sometimes. Perhaps I should strike the word from my vocabulary. Luckily he chuckled and said they had been married just a few months, and I backed out of it by joking I had no faith in marriage apparently. My husband comforted me later by saying it was nothing, but there it was. My foot. My mouth. Not what I had hoped to eat that night. I only had room for cereal when I got home after that feast.

And then there is the “Curse of Considerate Clarification,” or the 3-C problem as I call it:

I think I learned from my mother to be very mindful of my words–how were they making others feel, how do they sound to others? I have become very sensitive to peoples’ expressions, responses and actions in reply to my words, which often sends me in a day-long analysis of where I went wrong or where they misunderstood. This is very exhausting.  Changing the way you think is hard, but I’m trying to change the habit. Especially since my consideration for others has back-fired in my face.

Like last night. It didn’t backfire, but nearly so. Jake and I went out to dinner at a great Mexican-Irish restaurant (yup–and it’s an awesome pairing). The five-year-old joint is just a half block down the street from the New York favorite Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which had just opened. Naturally the barbecue restaurant was packed every day. And we were benefiting, as here we were eating at this very popular place without waiting for a table. Surprised I asked the manager who seated us, “So, have you noticed your business dropping due to the new place down the street?” Immediately, as I glanced at the numerous empty tables I thought Oh crap, she might think that I think they are losing business, or that they are too slow for a Saturday! Quick! Tell her that’s not what you meant! So I said, “Oh! I hope you didn’t think I meant you guys would be losing business to them. I’m sure you won’t be affected–it being such a different market.” The manager smiled, agreed by citing how busy they had been thirty minutes before, and then went to seat another couple. I was relieved! It is this kind of situation that so many times has prompted the reply: “Well, I didn’t think you meant that originally, but now that you brought it up that’s exactly what I’m going to think.” Go figure!

What I’ve learned is that I need to trust that others will ask me to clarify what I meant if they took it negatively. I should hope they will consider my character and intent. I should also remember to pause before I speak to think of what I want to say.

But finally, if I feel like I need to clarify, I can avoid the 3-C problem by restating. Instead of: “I hope I didn’t make you think…” I can say: “Let me clarify. What I meant to say was…” or “That didn’t sound right, let me rephrase that.” By rephrasing what I say I remove the possibility that the listener will suspect me of ill-intent or veiled malice. I certainly won’t wind up prompting them to doubt my intentions! And perhaps with any luck I will spare myself a little exhaustive worry!

 

Here’s your Hypocrite Certificate

There is one thing I can’t stand: people who complain over and over about things and then do nothing about it!

I have this problem sometimes too, but I acknowledge my hypocrisy so I can feel somehow slightly forgiven because I at least know I do it. Not the best excuse–I’m a work in progress–but I am trying. And usually I try to DO things to alleviate my frustrations by altering my behavior.

But man! People at work today. I just couldn’t handle it. It was a weird day in general, but the obvious hypocrisy of two particular women today was so silly and ridiculous that I was left speechless (quite a task)!

This afternoon, my facilities manager Carmen (name changed) was discussing how every workplace seems to deal with the same problem: people are slobs. They leave dirty dishes in the sink for days; they are too lazy to pick up a paper towel they dropped on the floor, or wipe off their crumbs from the break room table. They make disgusting messes in the bathroom and refuse to clean it up. The list goes on.

So here I am talking about this with Carmen and these two other ladies are also very passionately protesting such behavior: “Slobs!” “How inconsiderate.” “Savages!” After a few minutes of their complains (with which I heartily participated), I tried to interject my positive solution: “Well, I guess at some point though we need to move past our frustration and decide to model the proper behavior so other people feel pressured to do the same….” Before I could finish my thought, the two ladies were forcefully shaking their heads. Nope. I don’t think so! their faces said. They wouldn’t do that. “If everyone else breaks the rules, so can we,” they countered.

And that, my friends, is why so many people never find actual solutions to their problems.

This would change your community. Seriously.

Hour Exchange Portland logo

Listening to PBS NewsHour today as my fingers drummed mindlessly away at my work keyboard, I came upon a most wonderful idea and I wanted to share it with you. This is the kind of thing that could work in any community, anywhere in the country. It would help people keep their professional skills honed while unemployed, and help individuals keep their homes and lifestyles maintained and enriched. The PBS feature “In Maine, service time swapped to help stretch dollars in recession” details a project called “Hour Exchange Portland,” founded by an actual Rockefeller–Richard Rockefeller. Here’s how this thing works: you first make a deposit in the form of your time — donating your skills to someone else. For each hour of your time you volunteer, you earn a “time dollar.” You can spend these dollars when you want by asking for services offered from other members of the program (there are around 600 currently in Portland). By doing this act of “generosity,” people get their leaky faucets fixed, their mufflers attached, their doctors visited. Pretty simple, definitely straightforward. And those are always the best ideas (look at the Post-It). Amazing, right?!  How much better off would we all be to have this in our communities?

I encourage you to check out the newscast video (just 7 minutes), and share this with your friends and relatives! (There are “share” functions at the bottom of the post.) Start one of these in your town! We could change the world, our society, and our economy and get back the same that we give and it could be SO easy! 

Click HERE to see the video.

Click here to visit the foundation’s website:Hour Exchange Portland

Farting and Pooping

Finally! I’m done! Five months of planning, sewing, photographing, and I am done! My newest completed Be Nice. project piece is ready to be reproduced into a brochure (8.5 x 14 inches, with four panels, double-sided. It will fold like an accordion.), and I am so excited!

The piece is about one of my favorite subjects: bathroom-related etiquette. It is a never-ending fascination to me how people behave in the public restrooms, and what they decide to leave behind (why, oh why do they leave anything behind?!). Even more surprising is what people do with their loved ones in private, and what some do in public! I am amazed how something everyone does on such a regular basis is so taboo (I daresay more so than sex), especially when one considers how poo can tell us the quality of our overall health. I just couldn’t resist–I had to make a piece on the subject! Talking about poo was one reason that contributed to my 65 pound weight loss in 2005, and it is even the reason I made one of my best friendships here in New York (yes, talking about poo gained me a friends)!

I present to you: the Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping!

Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping (outside panel; left section is the back cover; right section is the front cover)

Be Nice. Guide to Farting and Pooping (inside panel--this is the entire inside section)

The images are small, and may appear a bit fuzzy, but if you click them they will open slightly larger and more readable!

Once I print them, I am going to have distribution in the works. If you know a place that would be perfect for it, pass it along by emailing me! This project is completely self-funded so in the near future I am planning a Kickstarter campaign to aid the publication costs. If you have any ideas/suggestions, please pass them along!

I sincerely hope you get a chuckle out of this piece! Thanks as always for reading and supporting this project!

(And if you like this topic, you might enjoy the fabulously funny book What is your poo telling you? by Josh Richman and Anish Sheth, M.D. They have a website here.)

Being nice can give you free stuff

I’ve been gone for a while. Sorry about that! I have no really great excuse. I moved to a new apartment awhile ago and I have been nesting. That’s it. Just making art, and nesting. Working on the next Be Nice. piece actually, which is in its final stages of completion. I hope it will make you laugh.

Anyways, in that spirit, I have a game I think you should play. It’s free, easy, and sometimes you get cool rewards, like free dinner, discounts, or free dessert. Usually you just get a warm fuzzy feeling, so I would let that be your motivation if you choose to play it. People can sniff out others who are looking for a freebie handout, so best to keep your motivations pure. Anyhow, it’s a one-player game, though you can involve your friends. My friend Katie and I like to compete for who can “out-nice” the other in pretty much any situation. Seriously, we do. It’s a blast. But this game is one that you can do whenever, wherever you like, with whomever you choose. And it’s great. It’s called the “Be awesome to customer service professionals until they are smiling, laughing, and happy” game. Not the best name–I’ll have to work on it. But you get the idea.

The rules are simple:
1. Be yourself, be friendly, and be genuine.
2. You cannot know the person–they must be a stranger.
3. Don’t plan it, just do it at the drop of a dime, when the opportunity comes up.
4. Pay attention to the game’s effect on the other person and how awesome it makes you feel (trust me, this game makes it feel great to be you, which is pretty cool).

It is pretty unusual for the “customer” to be friendlier or nicer than the worker, but that is what makes this game so effective. It catches people off guard. And when you do that, you have a better chance of really having a positive impact. Not to mention, when you cheer up that worker, they’ll pay that forward to future customers and friends. Here’s my most recent example of how this can be done:

Last night I was watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. I’m on a big kick and I’m re-watching ALL the old episodes while I sew. I was excited because my husband was off in his studio working, so I had the computer all to myself and could watch my show (he’s not such a fan) for the entire evening. Just me and some tear-jerking drama. I had fully immersed myself in the beginning of season 6. I was invested. Then, out of nowhere, Netflix had a server error. NOOOOOOO! I checked my internet, my browser. Nothing fixed it. How could this happen?! This was my Grey’s night! In a last-ditch effort, I called the customer service number on the screen and after three tries, I got in touch with a customer service rep. At this point I think many people would be pretty miffed. But how could I be? The guy on the other end of the line sounded super friendly, animated, and totally helpful. And I later learned it was his last call of the day, and he was still courteous. I love this kind of Rep.

Naturally I started to chat the guy up: “Where am I calling you?” “Portland, Oregon,” he replied.  “Oh! I am so jealous! What an awesome place to be I hear!…” From there we just rattled away at each other, and it was great. He was just getting off work, and I had the pleasure of sending him into his evening smiling and laughing. Being cheerful–even though I had a reason to be grumpy–had managed to make his night end on a positive note, and it made my little video viewing inconvenience not even matter!

I have plenty of examples like that; a credit card rep in India who I had more in common than I knew–AND who told me some sweet places to go if I ever get a chance to go to his country; an electric company rep originally from NYC who was putting herself through school while working full-time–she was a blast to talk with. An ice cream shop clerk who laughed herself red when I told her about growing up on a farm as a child, chasing giant cattle into their pen with a stick. It can make your evening, it can change your mood. Have fun!

Grocery store lost and found

It is too easy for us to think only of ourselves. Last week, I had rented for the first time a Red Box movie (all our local video stores went bankrupt) at my grocery store. As I placed my cart in the cart-catcher in the parking lot, I noticed that a Red Box movie was sitting alone in another cart. Surprised I grabbed it and said to my husband, “Oh no, someone left their Red Box movie in their cart!” A woman walking by overheard and said, “What movie is it? You might get lucky here and get a free movie.” I was disgusted at what she was suggesting and replied after a moment, “No. I don’t think that is right, ” and she walked off. I couldn’t believe it. If that woman had found the disc, she would’ve kept it and the original renter would likely be charged the full value of the movie. Where is her sense of responsibility and charity? It’s one thing when you find a dollar on the street and keep it because you didn’t see someone drop it. It’s a whole other thing when you can alleviate the original owner of their loss. The woman at the store was thinking selfishly of how I might benefit, rather than of how that would affect the original renter. And interestingly enough, I think she expected me to respond positively to her suggestion, which makes me wonder what trends are establishing themselves in our communities. Now, a lot of people would argue, “If they were dumb enough to leave it in their cart, they deserve to get it stolen.” But those people sound to me like they are simply justifying bad behavior. We need to think of other people sometimes-and specifically in these situations. And more than that–if we can–we need to speak out against those who are operating on the selfish end of things. To finish my story: I took the movie in and told the customer service desk about it in case the owner called in about it. The movie was then safely returned.

On another bright note, awhile back someone close to me told me how she was so deeply thinking of what she needed to do when she got home that she left her purse in her cart in the cart-catcher at the grocery store. She drove the short few minutes to her home and went to grab her purse when it dawned on her what she had done. In a panic, she drove back to the store, her heart sinking. Her money! Her credit cards! Her spare set of keys, oh Lord. This could be very bad. She checked for her purse where she left it and it wasn’t there. With just a shred of hope she found her way quickly to the grocery store customer service desk. She said–embarrassed, “By any chance, did anyone bring a lost purse in here a few minutes ago? I left mine in the parking lot.” The woman behind the counter pulled out the purse. My friend checked inside and found not only her credit cards, but her cash as well!  She asked the clerk, “Did they leave any contact information? I would like to thank them and give them a reward.” The clerk said no. My friend was baffled: not only did the person–her small town savior!–return the purse fully intact, but they didn’t even expect a reward! This was humanity at one of its moments!  THIS was what being good was all about!