The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cosmetics August 5, 2010

Filed under: activism,Products — Alden @ 8:09 pm
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Is Conscious Consumerism Just a Huge Farce?

Filed under: activism — Alden @ 7:37 pm
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This thickly accented speaker, Slavoj Zizek, makes a long, convoluted argument that buying Toms, buying Fair Trade Coffee, buying organic is really just hypocrisy. We are “helping with the one hand what we ruined with the left hand.” In short, whenever we buy something that donates to a cause, we are still supporting the economic structures which gave rise to poverty, bad working conditions, and ecological degradation.

My response is two-fold: Yes, I agree that you can’t buy your way out of the mess we are in. Going out and shopping all the time for organic, fair-trade clothing that you don’t need is not the answer to poverty, environmental degradation, and disease. But if you need shoes, why not buy from Toms? If you must get a new, clean t-shirt, why not make it organic?

Anyway, take a look, and tell me what you think:

 

My Letter of the Week to My Reps July 23, 2010

Way to go. I just saw the news about the so-called “Energy Bill,” which is really just democrats rolling over and showing their bellies to the Republicans.

“We can’t get the votes. It’s not possible.” Is that all we will ever hear from Democrats? At least Republicans get it done, even if I disagree with all of their policies. I had such high hopes when Obama got elected. I thought maybe since Democrats had taken it back, they would have the courage and conviction to undo Bush’s policies and steer us away from relying on oil from dangerous petro-states. To address the crisis of our time: climate change. To clean up the air and the Gulf. Instead we have…. Nothing at all.

Your legacy will be the Congress who was too scared to save our country from poisoning itself with oil and coal. Congratulations.

Sincerely,

Alden Wicker

New York, NY 10025

cleanhippie.wordpress.com

@aldenwicker

 

I Am NOT a Guinea Pig July 21, 2010

How many times have I talked about the toxic chemicals found in nail polish, lotions, and even receipts?

It’s not just these things, chemicals that can cause cancer and  mess with your ability to have children are found in stuff we touch and handle every day, like floor carpet, baby bottles, and food cans. It’s gotten so bad that they have found toxins in umbilical cords. That’s right, we’ve poisoned our babies  before they even make it out into the world. Good ol’ American ingenuity.

If by now you are saying “WTF? Isn’t someone supposed to make sure this doesn’t happen? Why are companies allowed to poison us?” You are on the right track.

As it stands now, companies are allowed to come up with all sorts of crazy stuff, and put it on the market, with no proof that it is safe. You would think after all that asbestos and lead craziness, the government would get wise and think, “Hey, maybe some man-made chemicals should be tested before we put it in insulation, paint, and food containers.” Unfortunately, it’s impossible for the EPA to keep up with the thousands of chemicals out there on the market.

Go to IAmNotAGuineaPig.com to voice your concern and help push new regulation through congress to make it the responsibility of manufacturers to prove their products are safe before they can be marketed.

 

Rep yo’ Cause July 12, 2010

Filed under: activism,Food — Alden @ 9:53 pm

I’ve written before about how important it is to let your representatives know you care. It’s super easy to write an email, (your fave issues will probably have pre-written emails for you.) But if you want to give a little extra something, handwritten is the way to go.

I was inspired by this video:

So I wrote this to NY Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and House Rep Rangel:

Dear [Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, Representative Rangel],

My name is Alden Wicker. I just moved to New York a year ago, and I write a blog on sustainability issues and living in New York. As I’ve become more aware and more involved in the politics of sustainability and health, I’ve become more and more worried about the state of our food system. I know that you are a big supporter of working families. Well, I think one of the biggest issues facing families today is how we feed ourselves.

Our food system is so broken; it makes the healthcare system look like a well-oiled health-giving machine. I could cite a lot of statistics here about food borne illnesses bred in Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations, the unsettling rise of antibiotic resistance as drugs are steadily poured into the feed of animals, the extreme subsidies for corn that prop up ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, and the unnecessarily high carbon emissions from shipping and fossil fuel-intense farming, and so many other disturbing facts about how our food system undermines our health, natural world, and happiness.

But I think it all comes down to this: it is cheaper for a family to buy hamburgers and fries with a coke than it is to buy whole vegetables, lean protein, and some milk for dinner. I am so lucky that I can afford to buy produce that doesn’t have pesticides on it, that I can peruse the farmers market of nutritious offerings that weren’t shipped from South America, and that I can make smart choices about what I put in my body. But there are so many people out there who don’t have a choice. They are forced into diabetes and heart disease because of government subsidies and regulation. It’s a sad paradox that the lowest income areas of New York have the highest rates of obesity. This is an issue that affects many of your constituents. I believe America is the best country in the world, but if we can’t even give a large swath of our population the chance at health anymore, then what does that mean?

Here’s what should happen in order to restore America to health, in this order:

  • Shift subsidies away from corn and toward other vegetables and fruit
  • Support FDA regulation that allows small farmers to process animals safely and cheaply
  • Support stricter regulation of pesticides that are carcinogenic, undermine local, beneficial insect populations, or breed “superweeds.”
  • Support the overhaul of school lunch programs away from junk food and toward whole, fresh foods

I sincerely hope this letter finds its way into your hands. I’ll be watching to see how everything plays out.

Thank you,

Alden Wicker

I printed them, put them in envelopes, and sent it off to their offices in Washington DC. Nothing will probably come of it. But I know if I keep writing, if I show up regularly in their inbox, they will know I care. It’s a tiny thing, but it means a lot to me.

Here’s hoping I can keep it up!

 

What’s Organic About Organic? Well, I’ll Tell You July 9, 2010

“The pesticides are made to stay on even in a rainstorm….So how big of a rainstorm are you giving in your kitchen?” – A farmer on pesticide use in apple orchards

Whew, this post is late. Things just got a little out of hand, what with my trip out of town and all that stuff I had to attend to, like watching ten episodes of Lost. (I have a lot of catching up to do.)

Anyhoo, last Thursday – shoot, the Thursday before, actually, I scooted down to the Here Theater to see What’s Organic About Organic? a sort of low-budget Food Inc. The little theater was packed with people, despite it being the fourth showing of a whole week. Apparently there are a lot of very aware and curious people in NYC.

The movie didn’t teach me a lot of things I didn’t already know, since I’m already a voracious reader of blogs on the topic. Still, it’s good for me to watch this stuff, because sometimes I need a boost in my determination to be more aware about what I eat. It’s like going on a diet – you need to keep trying on those skinny jeans in order to remember why you gave up dessert….and hamburgers…and anything not organic…

I did pick up some choice facts about conventional farming (aka, “not organic.”) THey’re a swift kick in the pants to all you Luddites still enjoying McDonald’s. Please enjoy:

  • Farmers and their families on conventional farms frequently suffer from pesticide poisoning
  • Pesticides are the same chemicals used in chemical warfare. They are just watered down to put on our food.
  • Chemicals from those pesticides can get into our water supply
  • The estimated health and environmental costs of our farm chemical usage in the US is estimated at $9 billion
  • Arsenic is often put in chicken feed. The chicken poop is then fed to other animals.
  • Industrialized farming (think large-scale farms with produced shipped hundreds of miles) currently depends on cheap fossil fuel, something that is getting harder and harder to come by.
  • Switching to all organic farming could reduce 25% of our carbon emissions
  • Produce loses 40% of its nutrients within three days of being picked. Unfortunately, most produce doesn’t reach your shopping cart until after that.
  • 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals. (Which makes your next round of needed antibiotics less effective, by the way.)
  • Sewage sludge is used as fertilizer in conventional agriculture

The movie was equal parts hope and frustration. Farmers talked with a fierce pride about sticking to their guns, even as everyone told them they would do better if they used fancy pesticides and GMOs. They tut-tutted other farmers who are deep in debt and battling super weeds and crazy infestations of bugs, even as they douse fields with Roundup. They talked about their hope for the future, about the quality and beauty of their food. But even so, the sheer scale of the problem was sobering. Sadly, one farming cooperative that the movie focused on had shut down by the time the movie was done being produced.

After the lights came up I chatted with a girl my age next to me with masses of long curly hair and fun bracelets that clinked on her wrist. Her name was Rose, and she is even more into food issues than I am. She also already knew about most of what the movie had to say, “I mean, images of CAFOs are burned into my brain,” she said “so…”

While we talked the panelists came up on stage. Restaurants was the topic of the night. I was curious to hear more about sustainable restaurants, but even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have left. Not a person in the theater budged from their seats, eagerly looking up at some of the most well-respected members of the farm-to-table movement.

Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group

My ears perked up at the name Batali. I had just written a post about his wonderful pizzeria, Otto Enoteca, where I enjoyed some of the best pizza I had ever had, and heavenly cheese with truffle honey. Of course if you’ve heard of Mario Batali, you might know he has a small restaurant empire. I was so pleased to know that his restaurants embrace sustainability. They source from local farms, use organic produce, and avoid using fish that are being overfished. In order to convince all of the chefs – chefs always being averse to being told what to do – Elizabeth brought them all in and showed them videos of the impact of food decisions. They were converted. I think I have found my new favorite restaurant.

Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s No. 43

Jimmy’s love of good quality food came through as he talked. Far from being a gimmick, his seasonal variations on his menu evolved slowly as he acquired more and more food from local farms. One day, he said, he woke up and realized his summertime menu is composed almost entirely of food from within a hundred miles, save for the olive oil and lemon. Now he gets CSA deliveries right to his restaurant, which has become a hub of activity has other restaurants stop by to pick up their own produce. His fave farm? The Piggery.

Carlos Suarez, owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant

Love this guy. He worked in finance for a year, but decided it had a lack of value (no, really??), so he quit and started a restaurant, Bobo. I had never heard of this West Village restaurant before, but believe me, it’s on my list. His restaurant doesn’t even serve bottled water.

Ian Marvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Added Value

Added Value is an urban farm in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and from what I can tell it is an amazing venture. Teenagers staff the field and the produce table. The owners of The Good Fork, which sources from Added Value, walk three blocks in the morning from their home to open up the restaurant. The restaurant, in turn, is three blocks from Added Value. The point of Ian telling the audience this is that all that money made from the farm circulates within Red Hook. The implication? Real, local people get the benefit of this agriculture, instead of faceless corporations hundreds of miles away.

Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods

Patrick seems to be more of the pragmatic and sober type, instead of the pie-in-the-sky breed of organic evangelists. He caused a ruckus when he said that Purdue has value in that it “feeds the world.” Boy did that get everyone riled up, especially the farmer in attendance, Marty Mesh. What Patrick was trying to say is that famines used to be a way of life, and the sheer scale of conventional agriculture has made those a thing of the past. That’s a good thing, even if there are a lot of abuses and serious drawback to the system. After getting raked over the coals by other panelists, he reiterated that he dislikes Purdue and Smithfield as much as anyone. They are, after all, the enemies of the movement.

That’s Shelley Rogers by the way, the documentary maker, laughing to the left of Patrick.

Classie Parker, founder of Five Star Community Garden in Harlem

This lady was adorable. Rose and I kept on looking at each other and practically squealing with delight as she held forth about the importance of community and good food, and her jam with Southern Comfort in it. Yum. She’s a main character in the movie as well. “Not enough people are talking about it. Go on Facebook. Go on Twitter,” she exhorted the audience. “I guarantee you it will grow!”

Marty Mesh – Farmer Advocate and Executive Director of Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers

Marty was another main character in the movie, a grower with very strong opinions. (At one point he claimed Swine Flu was caused by conventional pig raising. Urp.) But I loved his idea of installing organic farms in low income areas and homes, a great way to improve nutrition. He got a huge round of applause from the audience when he declared we should “get corporations out of the food system.”

After the panel disbanded, Rose and I exchanged info, promising each other that we would get up to Harlem to see Classie’s Five Star Community Garden, and maybe get our hands a little dirty!

 

What can YOU do to Help the Gulf? June 23, 2010

Filed under: activism,bicycle,green angst,Lifestyle,sustainability,Tips — Alden @ 4:43 pm
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Are you pissed? Of course you are! When something like this happens, our first inclinations is to just boycott the offending company. Sounds easy right? Just don’t fill your tank at BP. Punish the bastards for their lax safety standards, their laughable contingency plan, their outrageous hubris, their lies about the extent of the oil spill, and even now, their bullying of reporters who have been trying to cover the damn thing.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds to vote with your dollar, not when it comes to BP. As this WSJ article points out, BP’s profit from their stations is just a sliver of their overall billions. Who you really hurt when you boycott their station, are the independent dealers who have long term contracts with the company. And even when you bypass a BP and pull into a Chevron. Guess what? You still might be buying BP oil. It’s all mixed up together and delivered wherever. So much for consumer power.

So what can you actually do to stand up for the pelicans, your grandparents down in Florida, and a better future? Stop buying oil!

Whoa, whoa. Stop buying oil? My goodness that’s impossible!

OK, yes, in the next fifty years, it is impossible to completely get away from gas. But you can try to reduce your consumption. If the average American drove 4.2 miles less a day, we wouldn’t even need offshore drilling. How about that? Only 4.2 miles less a day. You know what that is?

It’s renting a bike at the beach this summer, instead of driving back and forth from your house to the waves. (Bikes make me happy!)

It’s designating one day a week as errand day, and planning accordingly, instead of making lots of little trips. (So much nicer!)

It’s vacationing at the beach that is two hours away, instead of all the way down South. (Screw road trips. Give me the beach NOW.)

It’s skipping the taxi and taking the subway, or better yet, commuting by bike. (Taxis are annoying anyway. Stop honking already!)

It’s picking up your friend(s) on the way to a party and leaving together. (It’s what the popular people do, don’t you know?)

It’s using Netflix instead of going out for a movie. (That sh** is overpriced anyway.)

It’s cooking your own meal at home, with lit candles, instead of eating out. (Now THAT is romantic.)

It’s going out on a sailboat instead of a motor boat or jet skis.

Such little things! Yet they could make a difference. And guess where all these little things are taking you? More time with friends and family, and less time alone in your sad deathbox. Oops, I meant SUV.

You can also use less plastic. Buy glass containers instead of plastic, and buy in bulk. I just love the look of a pretty pantry full of jars, instead of torn boxes and bags. I, for one, wash and reuse my cutlery and work everyday. It’s the little things, y’all.

In the long term, this obviously won’t be enough. We need the infrastructure as a country to support biking, walking, and taking the train, for healthy, fun neighborhoods. But until then, why don’t you get a little exercise in? That bike path is looking pretty good, eh?