Tag Archives: food

What I finally found the courage to throw away


I spent good money on it. It was a special deal. Organic. Super-size pack. I dreamed of all the pleasure and wellness it would bring me, day by day.

It was more than four years ago, which I can only calculate because I can see in my mind’s eye having the big cardboard box of it in the apartment I haven’t lived in for over four years.

At some point, I tossed the cardboard box the fruity green Whole Foods tea came in, and I transferred the remaining plastic packets of tea bags into my catch-all tea box … where they’ve sat. And sat. And sat.

Unopened. For four years.

And last night, looking at them, trying to fit my Triple Echinacea tea into the box (stocking up for winter sniffle season!), I thought: Hmm, these are taking up a lot of space. 

And I thought: Maybe I’ll use them though. They’re still sealed in the plastic packets. Maybe I’ll want them this season. Maybe I’ll have a guest over who wants them. 

Gnawing away at my stomach, as my hand held them mid-air, frozen, was this feeling: It would be such a waste to throw them away. 

20141211-103633-38193731.jpgThen I had that vision of my old apartment, with a four years younger me, trying the tea I was so excited about, and not, to be honest, really loving the flavor. A little too fruity, a little artificial tasting. I hadn’t wanted another cup in four years. I hadn’t opened the packet to serve it to a guest. It was time to let go.

And then I remembered my loophole: my compost! Also known as the you-don’t-have-to-eat-that-shriveled-orange exemption, or the those-herbs-have-seen-better-days bin. 

Into the salad container in the freezer they go, like a limbo for sad produce and onion skins. And like that, years of letting this little mistake, this guilt-clutter, this biodegradable depravity, weigh me down like so many organic cement blocks, came to an end.

Back to the earth you go, poor little tea bags. May you come back as cherry tomatoes.



Tale of The Bag Lady


Every time I go to the grocery store around the corner, I bring a canvas or nylon tote with me. Because I don’t want to be this guy … And because every plastic bag I see gives me visions of a smoldering landfill in a post-apocalyptic future, bags swirling like crows in the air.

But in my effort to stay out of the cracked-up-enviro-loony bin, I let myself take home a load of groceries in a plastic bag when circumstances seem to require it. But I swear to myself: I will keep them, dammit! And I’ll reuse every one! 

My efforts are valiant: I use them to carry maybe-leaking containers of leftovers that I’ll eat for lunch. I use them to wrap my sneakers up when I pack a suitcase. I use them to carry disgusting, oozing compost from my apartment to the community garden.

Yet the bags somehow manage to outpace me. I use one as a bathroom trash can liner, and five show up in friends’ hands when they come over for a potluck. In recent months they finally filled up the bag-of-bags in my closet and began to spill onto the floor like crinkly dust bunnies.

It was time for a purge.

I remembered hearing that many stores were required by law to accept bags for recycling, and I was certain I’d seen a collection barrel at my local big chain grocery store. So for days—nay, weeks—I kept thinking in the back of mind: I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna clean out the bag mess in the closet. I’m gonna bag up all the bags and get them out of here once and for all. Bag bankruptcy. A fresh start, a new beginning! 

But you know how it goes. You’re busy. There are more urgent spring-cleaning priorities, like the stained kitchen mat or the grout in the shower. Not that I was going to get around to cleaning those, but there they were. So I set a date: the last week of May. By then I would have planted my garden (didn’t happen), celebrated my birthday (did happen), and finished a major project (phew!).

Memorial Day came and went, and it was time to Address The Bag Situation.

So you can see what I did, in that picture up at the top. See it? I bagged ’em. And I walked to the further away grocery store, because the one closest to me definitely does not offer the take-back service. But when I walked inside: no barrel. No bin. No take-backs.

What happened? I asked one of the cashiers. Didn’t you used to take back plastic bags?

“Yes,” she said, “We did. But the company who was supposed to collect them would never come. So we had to put them out by the dumpster.”

Words could not have expressed my dismay. The round-cheeked cashier with the lovely green headscarf gave me a friendly smile, and I tried to return it cheerfully. I tried not to look like a person whose dreams of spring-cleanliness and environmental heroism had just been crushed.

Those two bags-full-of-bags? They are sitting at this very moment on the floor of my kitchen, right where I photographed them, waiting for my next bright idea for their future.

How Will My Next Mayor Affect What I’m Having For Dinner?

With so many lefties to choose from in the upcoming mayoral primary, how will I ever decide? I’m no one-issue pony, but I do like a helpful digest of each guy and gal’s take on the biggies. So thank goodness The New School is offering the recording of this forum on food issues and PolicyMic wrote a helpful summary of each candidate’s responses.

Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Future of Food in New York City – on Livestream.com

One (More?) French Thing We Should Totally Copy

Steel yourself for your own lust when you scan this New York Times travel story — and slideshow —about the master craftspeople of France, who make everything from bouquets to baguettes to corsets.

When France’s Ministry of Labor approves your application to join the Meilleurs Ovriers de France club, you’re in for life. They’ve been maintaining this club of about 4,000 craftspeople since the 1920s, but even though its members’ products are the best of the best, this isn’t a by-and-for-the-elite thing:

“Market competition means that most of their exquisitely created products are affordable, putting small everyday luxuries within the reach of most consumers.”

Hot dog! At the bakery visited by the Times, baguettes cost about a buck fifty.

I wish the U.S. would find a way to replicate this system, helping build the market value of small businesses and businesspeople. For the talented individual, official recognition helps them to succeed. For the consumer and community, we learn to distinguish quality and we gain local stars, whose products’ quality we could depend on and whose success we can take pride in within our neighborhoods.

photo by Ian Britton, FreeFoto.com.

New kid on the block: compost bike

Top speed: 100 miles/hour, I think.

Make way in the bike lane for the newest thing in biking and do-gooding! This new project, the NYC Excess Bodega Bike, combines some of my favorite things: Spain, innovation, and environmentalism, and puts them on wheels in the form of a custom cargo bike. Like something Mrs. Armitage would ride, this Franken-bike can weigh, carry, and compost food picked up from small, food-centered businesses like coffee shops and markets that are throwing it out. The edible food can still be eaten, the waste won’t end up in a landfill, and the compost will end up at a community garden. Winning!

This project was originally done in Madrid and known as Mermas Carrito, but the Bodega Bike bike was put together during a free, collaborative workshop at Brooklyn’s 3rd Ward, which is how I found out about it. Though the pick-up service is meant to be temporary, Excess is only partnering with businesses “in exchange for a commitment from the participating businesses to improve their food waste practices.”

Now I’m going to give away one of my million-dollar ideas: why not set this up as a social-purpose business? Waste disposal is a serious cost for businesses, and if someone can develop a business model that makes diverting organic waste to a composting program more affordable for anyone in the food industry, you’ve just won yourself a lot of clients. Coffee shops would hire you to pick up all those used-up grounds, and then someone else pays you for the compost you’ve produced with it. People are paying you left and right to just take care of a mountain of dirt, and the environment and your bank account are flush with green. I’ve been promising myself to look into this for some time.

Drop me a line if you want to go into business together. In the meantime, keep up with the food rescue and compost project on Excess NYC’s site, whose blog also has lots of other great learning for ya. 


On carrots, collectivity, and time management (part 1)

Once upon a time — back in college, in the early aughts — my friends and I made a weekly visit to the grocery store. We went to the closest one, a half mile from our apartment in Chicago, loaded bags with Cheerios and mac’n’cheese and pre-washed baby spinach and chicken breasts, and did the grocery-waddle home, speed walking with tiny steps and our arms dragging nearly to the ground, fingers turning a strangled white from the weight of the plastic bags. After those easy years, shopping seemed to get more difficult.

As my financial resources grew ever so slightly and the food and foodie movements began to grow and my attention turned from totally self-absorbed to slightly world-oriented, food shopping became difficult. Do I buy organic? Do I not buy carrots if there are only conventional carrots on a given day at a given store? Do I resign myself to eating fewer vegetables if they’re now more expensive? Should I skip the grocery run entirely if I forgot to carry spare tote bags with me?

A couple years into living in New York, I made two decisions. One was that I was tired of making myself the same meals over and over: pasta with tomato sauce, pasta with tuna and tomato sauce, pasta with bell peppers and onions, chicken, and salad. I realized that in the grocery store, my eyes really only registered a half-dozen produce items that they readily understood: red peppers, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes. What the hell were all those other things? Wait, wait, I see avocados! The second was that I was tired of spending my money on shitty food. The store near one apartment in Queens always had produce on the verge of going bad — I don’t think they moved enough stock to keep a fresh supply. Farmers markets and Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were all completely out of the way.

So when I saw signs in the neighborhood I worked in for a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, I investigated, recruited some friends in the office (never did like to try new things alone), and signed us up. The way CSAs work is this: people invest in “shares” of a specific farm’s upcoming harvest, and they get their returns in produce, delivered regularly throughout the growing season. For farmers, this means more money earlier, less financial risk and instability, and the chance to connect with his customers. For folks like me, it means insanely fresh and delicious food at one hell of a price. If it’s a bad year, you get less for your money, but why should farmers have to take all that risk by themselves? They don’t control the weather, and they feed every one of us, which is kind of a big deal. I did the math and decided to go whole hog, buying a vegetable share, a fruit share, and a cheese share. It worked out to under $30 a week, and I thought that with a few extra bucks for bread, eggs, and milk, I’d actually be doing great budget-wise to get all this food through them.

Magical CSA lettuces.

Every single Wednesday after work we’d go pick up bags of food then divvy out the portions back in our office. We felt like celebrities walking back inside with overflowing bags. It’s hard to describe, but this food was just radiant. Think about the difference between a friend of yours that’s pretty good-looking and gorgeous celebrity. What is that? With people, I guess it’s usually plastic surgery, but with this food, it was just plain health and freshness. Coworkers would come admire at what we laid out on the kitchen table. I had fresh berries for breakfast every day, lettuce that didn’t even need dressing for me to swallow it and, to my dismay, more peaches than I could possibly eat. The thing is that these peaches were so damn good I didn’t really want to share them, and I greedily let far too many go bad in my refrigerator. Desperate, I looked for recipes to use them in and made incredible peach cupcakes with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Smitten Kitchen's Peach CupcakesThe peachiest cupcakes ever thanks to Smitten Kitchen.

In addition to making me feel like a celebrity (eater) and a super do-gooder, the CSA taught me (well, forced me) to eat so many new foods, a gift for which I am profoundly grateful. A dear friend in Philadelphia agreed to join me in a one-new-food-a-week correspondence and eating experiment, which we recorded somewhat erratically in a joint blog called Dear Daikon, which we started right as I was considering the CSA. I recorded my experiments learning to cook vegetables I’d only ever eaten out before, if ever, like collard greens, fava beans, brussels sprouts, and leeks. My friends at work and I would talk veggies, too: “Have you used your beets yet? Do you know how to eat a kohlrabi?”

To anyone even remotely open to considering joining a CSA, I always say do it. If you can put out the money upfront, the value you get for your dollars is hard to beat, as is the delight in having heaps of gleaming food handed to you every week and getting to talk about it with fellow members, friends, and roommates. But I only spent four seasons — two summers and two winters — with my CSA. That’s a story I’ll tell in a future post.