The following is an excerpt from an article found on   (You can find the entire article here.)  Some of these may be controversial, but necessary to ponder.  Thoughts? What will you pledge? 

I pledge to begin taking as many of the following steps as I can to stave off the worst effects of global warming, and spread the word. In so doing I will cut fossil fuel use. I will do some or all of the following:

  1. Cut down on driving my vehicle, or carpool. I will walk or bike, and not buy a car if I do not have one (best of all). I will support and use mass transit. I may work closer to my home.
  2. Cut down on working just for money: I can thereby barter more, and cut down on commuting.
  3. Depave my driveway, or help others’ depave their driveways, or depave parking lots, and grow food in depaved land.
  4. Unplug or retire my television, and perhaps go off the electricity grid. I will reduce energy for heating, and share appliances such as my oven with neighbors, and not buy or use power tools or jet skis, etc.
  5. Publicly oppose new road construction and road widening in my community, to start undoing sprawl, prevent growth in traffic, and halt the spread of forest roads allowing clearcuts.
  6. Take vacations without jet air travel, and avoid career activity dependent on jet travel.
  7. Plant trees, collect rainwater, and avoid overusing municipal water as it is energy-consumptive (and thus may emit CO2, the main heat-trapping gas that fossil fuels release).
  8. Buy local products, buy as little plastic as possible, carry a travel mug. Minimize consumption. Support alternative plant materials to cut down on petrochemicals and trees for paper. Avoid eating animal products especially shipped-in beef.
  9. Not bring more children into the world, or limit my offspring to one, and possibly adopt. I recognize the threat of overpopulation.
  10. Inform my community and the greater national and global community on the need to take action such as the above for climate stability.”


April 29, 2011

Our blog has been dormant for much of the winter. I could say that we were observing the cyclical nature of the seasons, but that’s not true. You might think we’d have more time to share our thoughts during the colder, darker months when we’re relegated to the indoor life. I would have thought the same, but our absence had little to do with the season, and it had only a little to do with the busy-ness of life. About once a month, my lovely wife would say something like: “we really need to post on the blog.” And we’d sigh.

She said it again last night, and this time I’m doing something about it. Without concern for order or cohesion, here are some things that have occupied our thoughts or time over the past few months:

  • It’s really difficult to keep tropical ferns happy through the winter–especially when our house is 50 degrees at night.
  • We met our newest niece, a chubby, dark-haired, happy lil’ thing.
  • It’s difficult to balance the desire to use as little electricity as possible with the need for some light, even if it is artificial.
  • Spring is a tease.
  • The first market of the season is my favorite day of the year. I get so excited for this day that I hardly sleep (and I purchase every green thing I see). Now I just need some morels.
  • We spent some warm, beautiful days in the mountains of Arkansas. We picked, we played, and we sipped moonshine (with some wonderful company).
  • I am sick of politics, and I find the political discourse in our country to be truly maddening. This is why David Bazan’s latest album, Strange Negotiations, is such a breath of fresh air.
  • We hosted a successful celebration of New Beer’s Day. Our guests brought far too much beer (which I am still enjoying), and I am further convinced that it needs to be a recognized national holiday.
  • The Farm Bill is up for renewal in 2012, and it is vital to our country’s future that we attempt to understand this bill’s importance.
  • We got rid of a cell phone in favor of an orange rotary phone.
  • Very soon we will open our windows wide, and we won’t close them for several months.
  • Spring is glorious.

Waiting on Washington: Food

November 3, 2010

It’s come and gone. Election day didn’t bring the end of the world. For us regular ol’ Americans, life goes on about the same.
Washington is bound to be just about the same as it was last week, but that doesn’t have to slow us down. Let’s talk about food. I’ve blogged about food before. We’ve talked about voting with our food dollars, and that’s very important. I don’t want be redundant here, so if you want to read more, visit some of my older posts.
As far as legislation goes, The Farm Bill is set to expire in 2012, and Congress is currently discussing food safety legislation. The Farm Bill largely dictates what farmers grow–currently, the subsidies we dole out ($56 billion for corn over a decade) provide huge incentives to grow “corn and beans.” The current Farm Bill makes processed foods cheap, since they’re loaded with various forms of corn and soy beans, but shouldn’t such a bill make produce cheap? Our USDA food pyramid reads one way, towards produce, but our subsidies read another, towards sugary, fatty, processed foodish stuff. Food safety is a joke, because as we’ve seen recently, not all food is safe. Our eggs make us sick, our celery is tainted, and we get free frogs in our bags of frozen veggies, but the current regulations (or lack of enforcement) are almost begging for such issues. Like most other action in Washington, I don’t expect the end products of either of these to be ideal, but I still think it’s worth our time to call our representatives. We can also act on our own.
Luckily for us, there’s something afoot. It’s called the Food Movement. This movement is already responsible for many changes we’re seeing. Marion Nestle, renowned nutritionist, says the Food Movement that we see sweeping across the country is democracy. I love this! At a time when our democracy seems to represent anything but the voices of the people, our voices are being heard because of what we put in our mouths. I realize it’s a bit dramatic to talk of our democracy as if it’s crumbling–we’re still free, and I am still mostly proud to be American–but it sure is good to see democracy working.
We don’t need a bill to dictate what foods are important for our tables, and we don’t need safety regulations to tell us that foods not processed in massive facilities are probably safer for our families. Because of lobbying efforts from some large companies, our tax dollars are propping up some unsustainable choices, but our dollars are just that: our dollars. Unfortunately, for those without the time or resources to educate themselves about smart, sustainable food choices or without the financial means to do anything about it, they are subject to Washington’s decisions. Democracy may be guiding this Food Movement, but is it true democracy if it doesn’t afford healthy and safe options to all Americans?
40% of children’s calories come from junk food. Yeah, read that again. I trust that parents want bright futures for these children. They don’t dream of their children developing diabetes, or living with health issues exacerbated by obesity. I don’t know how you’d rank affordable access to healthy food with other justice issues: women’s rights, slavery, civil rights, gay rights. Those are big issues. But I think this is another great social justice issue. It’s a great social injustice that there are Americans who cannot make the best food decisions for their families. Even if these individuals knew which food choices were most beneficial to them and to the environment, do they have the financial resources to make those choices? Well, I don’t have an easy answer to that, but I think at least part of the answer involves changing our priorities.

In the 1930s the average American household spent 22% of its income on food.  Now it’s 10%. Food, as you might imagine, is pretty important. We kind of need food to survive. But it only makes up 10% of our budgets! What things have filled in the gaps? Cell phones, cable TV, car payments. There are many more, but the common denominator in these is that they’re unnecessary. I don’t mean to come down on those of us who spend money on these things. Fortunately for many, we can afford these things plus food that’s good for us and the environment. This is where our values come in.
Large companies recognize a desire among Americans for cheap food (especially cheap meat), and in order to make it cheap they’ve got to skimp on doing things the right way. If animals are butchered properly, the bacteria naturally present in their digestive systems should not find it’s way into our peanut butter. Do we understand that we get what we pay for? I recognize that money isn’t growing on trees, but if we value food that’s good for us and good for our environment, then we should expect extra costs.
While I would love to see sweeping changes overnight, I realize that neither Washington nor consumers have that kind of power. But I’m very encouraged by movements I’ve seen. Corporations such as Wal-Mart see that we want locally grown produce, so they’re responding. I’m not Wal-Mart’s biggest fan, but their commitment to green practices continues to grow. And another thing: Wal-Mart has a knack for makin’ stuff cheap. If larger corporations continue to see the movement toward a sustainable food future, we can only hope that this will make healthy decisions possible for more Americans. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that we’re a country of trend-followers. At least with the Food Movement, it’s a trend that benefits our land, our food producers, our animals, and our consumers.
When it comes to food, our grassroots democracy seems to be working, and we owe ourselves a pat on the back. So what can we do now? Celebrate with a home-cooked meal made from local products and some green beer. Let’s keep doing what we’re doing, and let’s each take a step or two more. Lend your informed voice to push for local school lunch reform, shop at your local farmer’s market, join a CSA or a community garden. It’s encouraging to see our progress, but we still have work to do.

Election season is heating up, yet my optimism has cooled to an all-time low. You may know the feeling. Regardless of where you fall, politically, you are probably disappointed. Politics is, to borrow an all-too-common phrase, “business as usual.” It doesn’t seem to matter which candidate wins in Missouri, or which candidate wins in Colorado, or which candidate wins in Delaware, because money is the ruling power. Public opinion says one thing, but D.C. does another, because it’s not the voice of Americans to which our Senators and Representatives are listening. No, they’re listening to the voice of Monsanto, the voice of the Koch brothers, and the voice of Valero.

When it comes to my role in this “democracy,” I’ve gone through various stages of anger, and one of those included thoughts of refusing to vote. I’ve calmed down (a little bit), and I do plan to vote in November, but I still doubt whether it will make a difference. I don’t think this is the final word, because we are a resilient country, but is there any hope for change?

I think there is, and this is why: we don’t have to wait on Washington.  Some action from our elected officials can certainly help the causes with which we are concerned, but we can also act. I can’t guarantee that Senator McCaskill is going to notice (I certainly can’t replace the $23k she’s received from Monsanto), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up. It’s easy to back down, because it’s easier to wait on Obama, but I’m tired of waiting. I know that my actions alone won’t do much, but our country is defined by the will of its people–all of it’s people. Think about our actions this way: when we make compromises to our values, we walk in step with the elected officials we criticize. We can’t scoff at the way Roy Blunt’s campaign is funded by corporations when we shirk our own values for convenience.

In the coming weeks, I’d like to share my thoughts on how our actions and personal responsibility can force changes in Washington. We control how we use energy, how we view food, and how we spend money, and we can act regardless of whether Washington acts. We’ve heard that each dollar makes a difference, and each action makes a difference. But it’s easy to doubt these statements, and it’s easy to allow that doubt to lull us into complacency. Let’s take our values, stitch them to our sleeves, and create lasting change. Our government is supposed to represent the people of America, so let’s make sure D.C. knows where our values lie. We can’t afford to wait on them.

Tune in next week for part I of the series: Energy.

The Great Pumpkin Shortage

October 8, 2010

Wipe your brow! We have just survived the pumpkin shortage of 2009-2010 (I encourage you to leave comments on how you braved this last year without pumpkin spice cake. Ms. Eggsandsoup and I will also host a post-pumpkin shortage recovery group next Monday evening). Okay, so honestly, I didn’t know about this crisis until Saturday, and apparently it’s already over. I am still a little baffled–just as I, you probably didn’t scream in terror at the thought of not being able to find pumpkin at your local grocer. But we can all rest easy knowing the nearly year-long pumpkin shortage is over.

Now I need to rant: I get that we like pumpkin.  It’s colorful, it’s tasty, it’s healthy, and it’s necessary for many holiday traditions. Maybe I’m missing something, but even if your grocery store was out of canned pumpkin, what happened to cooking real pumpkin? I have been to two different farmer’s markets in the last week, and I assure you, there are plenty of pumpkins (and would guess that small, local farmers were probably annoyed at this pumpkin shortage frenzy, because they were thinking “we have tons of freakin’ pumpkins!”). Real pumpkin tastes better than canned pumpkin.  And with real pumpkin you don’t have to worry about BPA (yes, most cans are lined with BPA, and you know if the FDA is expressing some concern about BPA, then it’s definitely something we should avoid).

Cooking real pumpkins is super easy. It takes a little more time, but while it bakes, head outside and enjoy the fall weather (it won’t be long before you’ll have to wrap up in layers each time you venture out). Here’s how to do it: slice the pumpkin in half, scrape out the seeds and stringy stuff, lay the halves face down in a baking dish, and bake at 350 for 90 minutes. The lovely smell of fall will fill your house, you’ll have zero waste (since you’re composting that pumpkin skin and toasting the seeds for a snack), and you’ll know from where your pumpkin comes and which small farmer you’re supporting.  And did I mention it tastes better?

I Love My Cast Iron Skillets

September 17, 2010

Many families have cast iron skillets that have been passed down for generations.  There’s a reason for this: cast iron will last for-e-ver.  I’m lucky enough to have two such skillets (one with a lid).  I love them for their versatility.  I love them for their look.  I love them for their cooking abilities.  And now that I’ve learned some lessons, I love them for their low maintenance.
Cast iron is the original non-stick.  Before there were non-stick skillets, our parents and grandparents were cooking food without worrying about it sticking.  I worry about the chemicals involved in the non-stick coatings on new pans–I do think there are coatings that are safe–but by using cast iron, I don’t have to worry about what is on my skillet.  I’ll tell you right now what’s on my skillet: a few layers of olive oil, a few layers of coconut oil, some bacon grease, and a ton of butter.
As I said, I had some lessons to learn.  There aren’t alot of “don’ts” when dealing with cast iron, but here are two:
Don’t scrub with soap – cast iron is non-stick because of layers of fats cooked into the pores of the iron.  When the surface is scraped with grease-cutting soap, the coating begins to thin.  The coating on my first skillet began to crack, and before I knew it, I had rust.
Don’t leave acidic foods in the skillet – I made some dishes with lots of tomatoes, and since my skillet has a heavy lid, making it ideal for storage, I left the food in there and refrigerated it.  The acids began to break down the coating.  Again, rust.
If you have done one of the “don’ts,” worry not.  Your skillet, and mine, can be returned to it’s former glory–you just need to re-season it.  Once you see rust, just grab some steel wool or some sandpaper, and scrub down to the iron.  After doing that, you need some good fat or oil to coat the skillet.  I’ve used coconut oil, which looks like Crisco, and is a solid at room temperature (but isn’t hydrogenated).  I’ve read that animal fats work even better.  I covered the skillet with oil and baked it in the oven at 350 for about an hour (turn on the hood, and ventilate your kitchen, because it may smoke a bit).  I did that a few times.  Once you’ve done that, the skillet is seasoned and ready for action again, but I’d make sure to cook fatty foods the first few times.  Go ahead and enjoy some organic, locally-produced bacon, and leave some of the fat once you’re done (save the rest for later–I love eggs cooked in bacon grease).
Now that I know how to treat my beloved skillet, maintenance is simple.  If necessary, I scrub it with water only (and dry it well), and when I cook non-greasy foods, I toss in a tablespoon of butter once I’m finished.  The butter smells good, and it means that next time I turn on the heat, the skillet is ready to go.  My skillets are staples in the kitchen.  I use them in nearly every meal.
If you’re not lucky enough to have family heirloom skillets, check out a thrift store (Blackwell’s, near 63rd and Troost, has a ton) or garage sale.  Now that you know how to season one, you don’t have to be scared off by a little rust.  In another 80 years, we can pass our cast iron skillets on to the next generation.

Do You Know Your Soy?

April 21, 2010

This might seem like an odd question.  If you are a vegetarian, it’s an important question, and considering many processed and packaged foods contained some form of soy, it may be an equally important question for meat-eaters.  Many highly processed forms of soy involve the use of hexane, which is a neurotoxin.  Thanks to our friend, Jayson, here is an article from Mother Jones with more information.

Charlotte Vallaeys, senior researcher for The Cornucopia Institute says “If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soybeans that were made with hexane.”  Well, The Cornucopia Institute created a list that rates all brands of organic soy.  The list allows you to click on each individual company to see why they received a particular ranking.  Here’s the list.

We Have a Meat Problem

March 17, 2010

I know I’m preaching to the choir.  Our nation has a meat problem.  Our world has a meat problem.  But most of our world’s meat problem is due to our nation’s meat problem.  This article highlights a report on global meat production and the social, economic, health, and environmental impacts of this industry.

Take this quote: “Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.”  There are starving people throughout the world, and as population continues to increase, the number of hungry people is only going to grow.  But we are using nearly half of our agricultural products (corn, soybeans) to feed cows.  No, not people but cows.

Or this: “The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”  And many claim this is a conservative estimate.  If you don’t believe humans are contributing to global over-heating, you may not find this as disturbing, but it’s worth noting.  This starts with the agricultural process (running tractors and fertilizing with natural gas), moves on to cow waste (methane–if you’ve ever seen a fart lit, you know what I mean, but cow waste is also stored in big ol’ pools and sprayed on fields), and finishes with distribution (shipping uses fuel).  And indirectly, this doesn’t take into account the portions of the Amazon (remember from science class that trees use CO2) that are being leveled to keep up with the demand for cheap beef.

On top of these, small farmers in Poland and China are losing their farms because they can’t stay competitive.  Industrial meat manufacturers can buy 10 farms in these countries and turn that into 2 or 3 jobs.  More, we have no idea the impacts of this consumption on our health.  We are beginning to see, but we are still human lab rats.  What kind of effects does genetically modified corn (which our factory farm cows eat, along with chicken feathers, chicken waste, and antibiotics–these are necessary because cows, as ruminants, cannot digest corn, so they develop infections) have on our health?  I know GMOs are hotly debated, and I don’t have an answer, but should we test them before consuming them, or should we just take a “wait and see” approach?  Because of the overuse of our strongest antibiotics, are we sitting ducks waiting for an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant MRSA?

Our overconsumption of meat is an issue, and there is only one solution: eat less meat.  I realize this can all be overwhelming, and most of us can only focus our attention on one or two important issues.  For some of us those issues are politics or the passing of health care reform or fighting crime in our communities or attending to family crises.  I get that; we all have a lot going on.  But you can mostly ignore this issue and be an active participant in a very simple way.  We don’t need to do anything–we just need to stop doing something.  Or do it less.  Most of our readers aren’t big meat fiends, but we all know people who are.  We don’t have to berate people for eating meat, but there are those close to us who might benefit from hearing about our meat problem.

This is a social justice issue.  This is an environmental issue.  This is a health issue.  This is an economic issue.  Our meat problem is relevant in many areas of our lives, and it’s one we can’t ignore.

So on to my alternatives.  I don’t guarantee that these are easily accessible, but I hope they will inspire you to find your own.  Additionally, just as I wouldn’t advise a meat-eater to consume a reuben every day, I suggest you don’t eat a vegan reuben every day.  We are healthiest when we seek variance in our diets, and limiting your intake of even vegan thousand island dressing is probably a good idea.

Also, just to add to the suspense, I will offer this disclaimer.  Since I have given up some foods that i absolutely love, because they have meat, you might ask why I don’t just replace the meat in those with sustainably raised meat (since I am, after all, an “ethical omnivore”).  This is a good question.  But when I say I miss burnt ends, I know that I could get an ethical piece of beef brisket and make me some burnt ends, but what I miss is Jack’s Stack burnt ends, not a poor immitation of them that I could make at home.  Get the point?  But it’s true–if I must have burnt ends, that is the way to do it.  Plus, I have become pretty good at cooking meatless, I am far healthier for it, and there is no doubt that I live a more sustainable life, so I don’t plan to be a regular meat eater in the near future.

The Vegan Reuben.  I discovered this only recently, and I’ve had it only once, so I am excited about our new relationship.  The Chicago Diner serves only vegan fare, and I suspect their vegan meatloaf and their bbq “rib” sandwich are just as tasty.  But I am in love with their reuben.  From the looks of it–the melty cheese (dairy free for the vegans, regular cheese for those like me), the sloppy “corned beef,” the crunchy rye–you would swear it was an average meaty reuben, and you can taste nary a difference.  I can’t wait to return and enjoy my reuben with a beer from Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Veggie Burger.  Court and I eat so many veggie burgers that we have shortened it to v-burg–I know, we’re dorks.  But isn’t it exciting to eat a “burger” and still know you are getting some of your daily veggies?!  I have to mention two veggie burgers.  First, any self-respecting mid-towner knows McCoy’s serves the best veggie burger in the city.  With the avocado spread, those big ol’ sprouts, and some added spicy mustard, that “burger” is easily one of my favorite meals.  Second, we have discovered Organic Sunshine Burgers at Whole Foods.  These are soy free and gluten free.  They are as good as I’ve had, and I can have them any time I want.

Veggie Bratwurst.  I know this sounds strange, but you gotta stick with me.  I like to grill out, and besides burgers, everybody loves to grill a good brat.  Field Roast Grain Meat Co. makes a couple of excellent brat replacements.  They have an Italian “sausage” and a delicious smoked apple sage “brat.”  You might imagine that they don’t taste exactly like brats, which is true, but they are still very tasty.  And just as their meaty brethren, they are perfected by spicy mustard and sauerkraut (and beer).

Biscuits and Gravy.  This meal was a staple through college, and though I think it’s a good thing that I no longer eat it daily, it’s nice to have an alternative to satisfy my craving.  Handlebar in Chicago (I know, KC has some catching-up to do, but Bluebird has some good b&g too) serves big biscuits with seitan sausage gravy.  You also have the option of adding scrambled eggs or tofu.  To wash it all down, you have to order the Trifecta–it’s the perfect blend of Guinness, Jameson, and espresso.  You will begin your day (or afternoon) well-fed and perfectly buzzed.

Veggie Frittata.  My last favorite includes eggs, which I allow myself, so if you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, this may not work for you, but I love eggs.  Love them.  A frittata is very filling, and once you get the timing down (I burned the edge the first couple of times), it’s a perfect meal–you can throw in any random veggies you have.  We’ve added sweet potatoes, kale, mushrooms, chard, tomatoes, onions, carrots, and probably more.  It keeps well, and it transports well, so you can have lunch too.

I may not have met your expectations (I hope I didn’t imply that I had the veggie burnt ends replacement–I’m still looking, and I would love for some tips).  And buffalo wings, they may just be part of my past.  Though I should give some merit to the earlier question I assumed you might ask: you know, the one about why I don’t just make my own burnt ends?  Well, there are some great sustainable meats in KC, and I ought to highlight a few, so the flesh-lovers among us can feel good about what they eat.

Vendors: KC Buffalo Company sells buffalo burgers, steaks, briskets (burnt ends, anyone?), brats, and tongue.

Restaurants: The Westside LocalBluebird BistroJulian.

Websites: Kansas City Food Circle is a wonderful resource for finding all kinds of organic and free-range foods.

There are gives and takes to adopting the vegetarian lifestyle.  Now, let me clarify: I am more of an ethical omnivore, which by my definition means I eat meat when I know where it comes from and how it was raised, but since I eat a meatless diet about 350 days a year, I usually just go by “vegetarian.”  We all want to label everything and everybody, and I am in no mood to explain my actual diet and justification to every Jane that I encounter; add to this that I’m really a pescetarian because I eat fish (and if I’m confessing, eggs and milk, too) and it only gets more complicated.  So let’s keep it simple: I’m a crazy vegetarian.
I’ve been an ethical omnivore/mostly vegetarian for almost a year, and I enjoy it.  I have to cook more creatively, I have to pay closer attention to my diet, and I am more healthy for it.  It has been such a good experience that I plan to continue.  But there are some things I miss.

So, after wasting nearly two minutes of your time, here is my list of the fleshy foods i miss most:
The Reuben.  I love the mixture of salty corned beef, crunchy sauerkraut, homemade (real) thousand island dressing, melted swiss cheese, and slightly toasted rye bread.  Hungry?  I know.  Add some good fries, and you have a meal easily worth the coma that follows.
Burnt ends.  Between bread or on a plate, nobody does ’em like Jack’s Stack.  Oh, they’re greasy and crispy all at the same time.  And because I wouldn’t consider having one without the other, I’ll lump baked beans with the burnt ends.  I do miss them both.
Buffalo wings.  I was sitting at the bar at McCoy’s Public House when the guy next to me ordered some wings.  The smell of them was so enticing that I actually contemplated ordering them, having forgotten that I don’t eat meat.  No, it wasn’t in breach of my vegetarian oath that I considered ordering them–it was because my stomach spoke so loudly and authoritatively that my mind, for at least a moment, thought it to be a fantastic idea.  I had another beer to console myself.
[See a trend here–these aren’t especially healthy foods.  And they are much better with beer (there’s no point to that, other than the fact that i like beer).]
Hamburger.  You knew this had to make the list.  We all have our favorites.  I’ve found veggie burgers and fish burgers that act as very solid substitutes, but I will always miss a great hamburger.
Bratwurst.  No, I’m not German, but I love the bratwurst.  I want it with some chunky stone ground mustard and as much kraut as you can fit on the bun.  No Johnsonville for me, though.  If you’re from KC, it’s gotta be Scimeca’s.  Did I mention that my brother married a German?  My niece and nephew are part German, so that makes me at least an 1/8th, right?
That’s the list.  My next list will offer the best vegetarian alternatives I’ve found in my little time as an ethical omnivore.  Stay tuned.