15 Things you should know about Marijuana

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Prevent Food Waste, Save Money, Help the Planet

The results of an intensive 10 year study of food loss recently published through the University of Arizona reveals just how wasteful our nation is with its bounty.  The study, which also made use of decades of earlier research by the same UA Bureau, is the first to quantify the nation’s edible wastes with accurate percentages that track the entire production/consumption equation.  For example, at a commercial level the study finds that nearly half of all perfectly edible produce, nuts and grains are discarded without ever reaching intended markets, often plowed under due to failed bets on the high stakes commodities market.  This constitutes a major impact to the environment as mature crops are discarded in favor of a new bet on a new potential crop.

At a consumer level, the study finds that the average household ultimately discards 14 percent of all food purchases.  Nationwide this is the equivalent of 43 billion dollars each year!

So the question becomes, what can be done about it?  I believe we can turn this knowledge into a positive by letting it spur us to action.  In fact, the study noted three consumer actions that will have a big impact on the future direction these percentages take (given in all caps; the expounding is my own):

  1. PURCHASE PLANNING.  Keep a well-stocked pantry, free of lots of store bought cans and processed junk.  Repurpose glass jars and fill them with organic, whole foods bought locally in bulk and representative of everything your family eats the most of (i.e. don’t buy things just because they happen to be on sale).  When something is used from the pantry or you notice the bulk-jar needs a fill-up, immediately add the item to your next shopping list.  This will help you avoid impulsive trips to the store (the most likely time for you to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need; 15 percent of such purchases statistically go to waste).  Plan your shopping trips wisely.  Examine the pantry, look in the freezer, examine the sale-ads for the store(s) you’ll be visiting, and then make a meal list for at least a week, if not two or more.  Buy on sale, but not just because it’s on sale.  For example, don’t let cheap prices lure your family into stocking-up on processed foods.  Instead look for good prices on fresh foods that can be paired with items on hand in your pantry, or turned into pantry items (i.e. a cheap price on strawberries becomes a year’s worth of homemade strawberry jam).  Also look for good sales on your common pantry items.  Try not to buy anything at the store that isn’t on your  list, unless you find a good deal on a healthy item that will expand your running list of meals.
  2. RESPONSIBLE USE.  If you appreciate flexibility like we do, avoid planning your meal list by the day of the week and instead just keep a numbered list of the complete meals you have on hand.  Remove meals as they are consumed and add them as they are acquired.  Put the meals that utilize the most perishable ingredients at the top of the list and make choices that don’t allow those items to go to waste (i.e. take-out can truly wait a night if you have fresh ingredients on hand you are letting spoil).  Save any leftovers from your prepared meals for lunches, save the unused portion of any ingredient for use in other meals (in fact, count on this when planning your list), and save the best scraps of meal preparation in freezer bags (for making great stocks, broths, gravies, casseroles, etc.).  If you see produce moving toward over-ripe, preserve it through freezing, dehydration, or canning; or let it motivate you to make something from it in impromptu fashion.
  3. EDUCATION.  Learn about the ingredients you buy and consume and how they are best stored and preserved.  Always take the extra moment to store things properly.  Label and date anything you freeze or otherwise preserve.

And if you really want to see our nation start to break its ties with the specter of mindless insatiability, I recommend a fourth.  Support one of the many programs nationwide that collects surplus foodstuffs from restaurants, grocery chains, produce warehouses, and distributes what would otherwise be thrown away to those who need it most.

An Off-Grid Future

Once upon a time I had the pleasure of living  in the beautiful nowhere of Arizona beneath an old, creaking windmill that rhythmically drew water up from the Earth for our pleasure. I have also lived without power and with a percentage of my power generated by the Wind and Sun.  These are all conditions I would return to.  In fact, I am planning on an off-grid future.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching innovations in the off-grid arena and thought I’d share just a smidge:

WIND

According to the Global Wind Energy Council the wind power industry grew 31% last year despite the economy, making wind power a 63 billion dollar a year industry.  Investors are not hesitating to throw their money into the wind.  Grin.

One of the most promising products for home wind energy production is Honeywell’s new gearless turbine, engineered to serve the mainstream.  It was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009 and solves many of the issues commonly associated with personal wind turbines.  The gearless turbine requires only a quarter of the wind speed to generate power, compared to geared turbines of the same diameter!

SUN

Another promising product from Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products list that I’d already taken notice of in the Blogosphere is the Andalay AC Solar PV Panel.  Because it’s an AC system, there’s no need for an inverter and a tricky wiring job.  All the mounts, racking and wiring are built right in.  Essentially the closest thing there is to plug-and-play power for the home user!

WATER

Unlike Sun and Wind, which can be more or less accessed by everyone to some degree, using hydro-power relies on being lucky enough to have access to a source of running water from the property.  Yet when there is a spring, creek, or river (or if you happen to live on a boat), a micro-hydro power system is the most constant and reliable source of renewable energy available.   The most recent advances in micro-hydro turbines seem to reflect a similar trends in the wind power industry toward permanent magnet motors with fewer parts.  This improves performance in every way – creating turbines with more responsivity and less parts to wear out.

BIO-DIESEL

As I don’t drive and don’t feel particularly inclined toward fuel-burning engines, bio-diesel is admittedly not my forte.   However, I am savvy enough of off-grid circles to have second-hand knowledge of the glory of the Listeroid, a heavy-duty diesel generator that can be run off of filtered waste vegetable oils.  The Lister diesel generator isn’t anything new.  In fact, it originally came onto the market in 1929 and is today a standard of the Amish.  It is also known for bringing a reliable power source to scores of remote locales around the globe.    It can specifically,  directly power older tools & equipment having belt drives, or newer devices like water pumps, as it works to generate power for your battery bank.  Good for an off-grid homestead!  Put one in your workshop and use it to power the tools, pump some water, and back-up the batteries of your primary system on calm, cloudy days!

FUEL CELL

Is this the future? The Bloom Box has been called technologies’ newest darling, perhaps in part to early high-profile customers like Google and e-bayThis fuel cell device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it takes only two of these small boxes to power the traditional American household.  The suggestion is that for an initial investment of roughly $6k the standard American home will be able to become their own power center; just order on-line and set it up without having to worry about wiring.   Also, because the boxes can generate both energy and hydrogen the company describes a future where Bloom Boxes are paired with solar and wind systems to enable 24-hour power AND are used distribute hydrogen to “hydrogen fueling infrastructures”, potentially providing fuel for your hydrogen-powered car.  While you still have to feed the Bloom Box fuel after your initial investment, they are capable of using renewable bio-fuels, converting the fuel into electricity and hydrogen at over twice the standard rates.  It is this factor – that fossil fuels aren’t requisite – that is the Boxes’ saving grace and sets this technology apart from other similar (and failed) attempts at the same idea.

There are so many other amazing ideas  in development out there aimed at an off-grid future, from city-powering wave generators to kite-sails designed to harvest electricity for villages of clustered homes…the list goes on.  What I included here I kept on the home-powered, reasonably affordable scale.

The Impossible Hamster

The New Economics FoundationOne Hundred Months,  and  Wake Up, Freak Out have joined forces to produce this poignant video called The Impossible Hamster.  I really felt this and think it is probably the most adept illustration of the senselessness of unbridled economic growth anyone could hope to make in 1 minute 10 seconds:


Nutrition Data for any Ingredient or Recipe

Know what you are eating!  NutritionData.com has been around for almost 7 years, but I only recently rediscovered it while tiding up my bookmarks.  Since last I was there, it has been acquired by Condé Nast Publications and gained several handy “Nutrition Management Tools” developed, according to the site, to provide “the most comprehensive nutrition analysis available and to make it accessible to all”.  For me, the feature to analyze my own recipes is the coolest!  It is simultaneously more straightforward and more evolved than others I’ve used!!  There is also a nifty tracker to monitor your daily nutrient intake, if you are so inclined!  The source for the data on each individual item is provided in the footnotes of that item’s Nutrition Facts Page, which is appreciated!

Move a Little…

Recently I came across a book being promoted as a new release at the local library called “Move a Little, Lose a Lot:  New N.E.A.T. Science Reveals How to be Thinner, Happier, and Smarter” by James A Levine.  A few days later, I was pacing as I read, per his suggestion.

Levine is the doctor who developed and heads the NEAT Lab at the Mayo Clinic, where the most detailed and data-rich study of obesity and the metabolism was ever undertaken.  The results of the study, published in 2005, did not reinforce traditional ideas about obesity and weight-loss but rather suggested that it is well more effective to put more daily motion into your life than it is to seek out bursts of organized exercise.  This daily motion is specifically called NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  And in essence the importance of NEAT boils down to the idea that we have removed many of the simply daily tasks our bodies, like sophisticated machines, are designed to do; tasks that are slowly being removed from our daily repertoire with the mere push of a button.  Those little motions, actually add up to a lot, and serve to rev-up the metabolism.

I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but it coincides with a new theme going on at my house, where we’re consciously taking time each day after the little one’s nap to remake something in our environment closer to our ideal, as a family effort!  It’s been…well, transformative…

As I was typing good friend Amy shared another video I have to pass along, especially as it fits so nicely with our theme.  It is Jaime Oliver’s acceptance speech for the TED Prize.  Oliver’s goal is “to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”  How Awesome is he??

The video is long… but this is such a perfect speech, it’s worth watching…