Category Archives: Activism

Gardening With The Kids and DIY Almond Milk

            This week has been rough and I know the upcoming weeks are going to bring a lot of work too. I can say that the garden event with 13th and Union 1st graders was a success last week and the week before that. For those that may not have heard about this event already, our house invited over 1st graders of 13th and Union to learn about basic concepts of sustainability, permaculture, and planting seeds. They were very excited and had a lot of questions as well as a lot to share. Erin Sullivan, the VISTA, helped make this event possible by coordinating permission slips, bringing the kids over with the teachers, and supervising the children. She followed up with me after all the events were over and expressed how much the kids loved the event and had a lot of fun. The second graders even got a little jealous and want to visit the garden. I wish we could’ve done more events with more grades but the PSSAs were going on this time of the year and we are very busy with final projects and exams ourselves. Before leaving the house this semester, I hope we can discuss ideas, topics, event ideas amongst the housemates to create a guide for the next housemates. This event or something similar should continue in the future to start getting younger kids to think about the interconnectedness of their lives and the world.

            Apart from the garden event that I hosted this semester, Sam, our one housemate, has been getting into making her own almond milk. Between herself and I, we use a lot of almond milk/cashew milk containers, which are not recyclable or compostable. She wanted to avoid this by trying a more natural approach to almond milk by doing it herself at home on our dining room table! She soaks the almonds in water overnight and then mushes it and makes a liquidy paste out of it. The first time, the almond milk was pretty chunky but now she bought a special bag for it online, which will hopefully keep the chunks out for smooth almond milk. Down below there is a link for how to make your own almond milk at home.

 

Have a good summer and try to keep the AC off!

 

Renee

 

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-almond-milk-at-home-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-189996

 

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Milking the Almonds (Also, bye)

Hello friends! This is my last blog post for the year, which is bittersweet because that means I’m damn close to becoming a Big Girl. Help. I’ll talk about some new stuff we have been doing in the house and then a little about my plans for after grad.

This month, one of our goals was to reduce our waste output in the house by limiting excessive packaging. Since a consistent waste item Renee and I end up trashing is almond milk cartons, we figured that we could try our hand in making almond milk ourselves. The two of us bought almonds and some cheese cloth to filter it with. It was easier than I could’ve hoped! For each cup of almond milk, we soaked it in 3 cups of water overnight. In the morning, I got up and drained them. Then, I put them in the blender with 4 cups of water, vanilla, and cinnamon. After that, it’s ready to be drained and drank!

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Our first batch of almond milk 

The first time tasted great to me, but had a lot of pulp because the cheese cloth had pretty big holes. I purchased a special ‘nut milk bag’ (yes, that’s actually what it’s called) for my next batch and got no pulp at all. Progress has been made Some recipes suggest dates for sweetening and thickening, which maybe I’ll try next.

Also instead of buying chick pea cans, which I would buy a lot of, I bought a bag of raw chick peas to soak and cook myself. I haven’t perfected that quite as much as the almond milk which is upsetting, but I’ll keep working on it.

In other news, I start working probably the week after graduation, which is May 21st at Albright. I’ll be an Assistant Director at the Fund for the Public Interest office in Ridgewood, where I canvassed for two summers on issues revolving around clean water and public health issues. We collect petitions and sign up members for the organization to fund our political action. So, weirdly enough, I’m going to be my past-self’s boss. And I’ll have a salary and stuff. WOAH.

After the summer, I’ll be packing up and moving to New Brunswick to work in NJ’s main Fund for the Public Interest office, where I’m committed through August 2018. Committed for over a year for a job where I will be working probably about 65 hours a week. As spooky and tiring as that sounds, it is exactly where I hoped to be out of college. Influencing political change is one of the most important things to be doing always, and especially in this potentially damaging administration. I’ve been able to do so much just as a canvasser and field manager, so I can’t wait to see what I can help others do.

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One of our morning meetings in the Ridgewood Office ’15

Of course I’m going to miss a lot about college, but I honestly can’t wait to finish this chapter of my life and start the next. Reflecting, I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve gotten to have in the sustainability house. I went into the house wondering what more I could possibly do to be more sustainable, and I’ve definitely learned more skills and habits that I will carry with me. Things like making almond milk, composting, reducing packaged goods, and gardening are just some of the skills that I will surely continue with. Additionally I’ve grown to admire and adore the people in this house, so saying bye may prove to be a bit difficult. But, we shall see. Next year’s group of ladies are fantastic beings, so expect some quality content from them.

Thanks for keeping up this semester and watch out for our last few posts,

Sam

Sustainable Straws and Events

With weekends, spring break, volunteering, and other errands, my car accumulates the trash of not only myself, but of others as well. I have one grocery bag that is a little larger than your average plastic grocery bag which collects all types of waste: trash, recyclables, and compost (even reusable items which I’ll get to in a sec.!). I’ve started to take more effort to wait until I get home to sort through my waste, which ensures that my items are being recycled, composted, reused, etc. rather than put it in any bin that claims to recycle. For example, while dunking my donuts (which means going to Dunkin’ Donuts) I use the straws that they have there, as I don’t remember to bring a straw with me the majority of the time. From these straws, I had the idea of running string/yarn through the straws running down like those beaded curtains that you put between door ways. This could be a cute idea for the sustainability house for another example, other than the bottle wall, of ways to reuse objects that would otherwise be thrown out.

Permablitz was successful and the garden is ready for the summer interns as well as for my 13th and Union events running this week. Each day this week the second graders from 13th and Union will be coming down to the garden to plant some seeds, in the hopes that the flowers will bloom in time for Mother’s Day for the kids to give their mom or guardian something nice. I’m hoping this event will run smoothly and will only improve in quality each day we do it. Along with planting the seeds, there will be a mini-garden tour if it seems right to do and their attention is captured, and there will definitely be an educational component on seed growth, compost, and other content that seems fitting.

I hope for the best and for good weather!

Renee

Vegan Baking Event & Answering “Why Vegan?”

Hello friends,

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Let’s talk about veganism. I only recently went vegan, deciding to transition in August of 2016 after being vegetarian since 2006. Throughout my experience in these lifestyles, I’ve found that often the word ‘vegan’ tends to have a negative connotation. People assume that vegans are pushy and judgmental (which is, of course, the case with some people as within any group), assume that vegans are limited to living off of lettuce and carrots (a slight exaggeration to actual views hopefully), and look down upon the lifestyle because (I think) it doesn’t match up with they were taught was “normal” growing up. However, after all of the knowledge I’ve gained from my environmental studies classes as well as the information I myself have attained, I’m immensely passionate about helping others learn and fight the stigmas they have been fed on a vegan lifestyle. One easy way to do that is to show the average omnivore the yummy stuff that can be made without any animal products, which is exactly what I based my event around for the semester.

I had my house event earlier today, and I thought was successful and enjoyable for those who attended. The event was Vegan Baking at the house, which I gathered would provide a good setting to open a discussion about vegetarian and vegan diets. I figured that, while environmental studies and science majors may learn about the drawbacks of animal agriculture, other students may not be aware of the extent of the issue. Even those aware may just need a push or awareness about the feasibility of cutting out animal products. This motivated me to create an event where I could get students of all majors and interests to come together and openly talk or at least think and learn about these issues.

I printed out three articles to have people skim through while we waited for people to arrive and for our yummies to bake. First and foremost, I wanted to find an article that discussed meat specifically (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meat-and-environment/). This article discusses the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions it takes to produce meat products, the dramatic amounts of deforestation needed to provide land for livestock, the water pollution factory farms produce, and more. According to the article, meat consumption “tripled to about 600 billion pounds while population grew by 81%”, and mentioned that meat consumption was predicted to grow even more tremendously in the future. This, as many articles would agree, would put an even bigger stress on the environment and human health.

Second, I wanted to print out something easy and to the point for people to browse through, which brought me to this article (http://www.chooseveg.com/environment). This one was colorful and visual, something I figured people would appreciate. In images, it compared the amounts of energy and water used to produce soy vs. meat, it revealed that 30% of our land mass is used for animal agriculture, that 80% of deforested land is now being used for cattle pasture, etc. I found this to be the article people were looking through more than others, which I assume has something to do with the fact that it was more visual.

Lastly, I wanted to bring up the impacts of dairy specifically. I hear people question veganism by saying that products like dairy and eggs should be fine, because “they don’t harm the animal” which is arguable in itself. (Dairy cows have to be repeatedly artificially impregnated in order to produce milk and are most likely used for meat once they can’t produce milk any longer). However, even putting animal ethics aside, there are still environmental tolls that come with these animal industries. I found a New York Times article discussing the issue (https://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/04/business/energy-environment/how-growth-in-dairy-is-affecting-the-environment.html), highlighting the large amounts of pollution and how it impacts areas surrounding pastures. Greenhouse gases from feed production, manure, milk processing, and cow released methane are of a concern both locally and for the big issue of climate change. In some areas, like Riverdale which was mentioned in the article, parents are sometimes afraid to have their children play outside or invite visitors over because of the air pollution produced by nearby dairies.

That being said, these articles hopefully brought up some good and convincing points to those in attendance. For the most part, I think people were more focused on the yummy baked goods we were making! We made three of my favorite recipes for vegan brownies, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispie treats. There are specific marshmallows and chocolate chips you’ll want to look for if you want your recipe to be vegan, but often dark chocolate chips are fine. (Just read the ingredients. Or feel free to ask me for help! Internet is a helpful resource as well). I opened the floor for others to suggest baked goods to veganize, and one student suggested banana bread which turned out AMAZING! Seven students, not counting house students, came out to the event. This was honestly a perfect number for me, as I didn’t have too many people to talk over and assist. By the end of it,  some students were discussing their desires to go meatless and everyone seemed to love the recipes. Hopefully, my event lit a few sparks, helped spread the word about the ease of baking without animal products, and helped de-stigmatize the word “vegan”.

Now, have some pictures! Blake took a bunch as well, which hopefully I’ll get to share with you.

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Rice Krispie Treats & Brownies (The brownie crew made a cute marshmallow heart)

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The delicious banana bread

If you ever want any recipes or vegan tips, feel free to just ask!

Until next time,

Sam

Economics and the Environment: Analyzing Various Perspectives

The question of sustainable living goes much deeper than the daily changes we make in our lives to save water and energy and resources. It means confronting our individual, local, and global paradigms, it means deciding what we value in the world, how we imagine our future, and what our relationship to each other and the earth is.

Embarking on a journey of sustainable living requires a deep confrontation, analysis, and development of our ethics. This semester I am taking an Environmental Ethics course that is dramatically reshaping my perspectives and I would like to open a conversation with all of our readers about these themes. Today, I’d like to talk about an email by Lawrence Summer. He was the Chief Economist of the World Bank and signed this memo in 1991:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

— Lawrence Summers
At first glance, this email appears grossly classist, racist, environmentally damaging, and a serious breach of human rights and equality. How could one justify the mass exportation of pollution to poor populations? How is that fair? Why can’t we address pollution itself instead? How could anyone believe the detrimental health effects from dirty industry are justifiable for any population? When I first read this letter in my Environmental Sociology course, I thought all of these things and I was absolutely horrified. Now, I am taking my environmental ethics course and we took a deeper look at some aspects of what was put forth in this memo.
In my environmental ethics class, we read a source discussing the meanings behind what Summers is saying. According to this, and our discussion in class, Summers is raising the point that in these poor countries, the benefit of wages outweighs the benefit of a clean environment – it is a question of suffering from death by starvation or pollution. He essentially argues that due to poverty, the demand for industry and jobs is higher than the need for a clean environment because of survival needs, that the demand for a clean environment is a function of rising income. Bringing in industry, even if it is polluting, means economic growth, which environmental controls would slow.
Akin to this argument is the discussion of sustainable development in poorer nations. Some environmentalists argue that richer nations should invest in sustainable development in undeveloped nations as reparations for the environmental destruction they have caused and as a means to alleviate poverty sustainably. But, there are arguments against this from people in these countries because many rich nations raised their standard of living through the use of cheap fossil fuels. They argue that a plan of sustainable development denies them the same opportunity to raise quality of life cheaply and quickly. So, the same could be said for those arguing to keep polluting industries out of poor countries. Does this deny them much needed economic opportunity to which the cost of pollution is something they are willing to pay? If demand for clean environments increases with income, couldn’t it be possible for polluting industry to come in and provide jobs, increase income, and down the line lead to a higher demand for a clean environment and thus the institution of environmental controls can be implemented once the control is there? Maybe, maybe not.
The the capitalist system relies on market forces, and working within this context, maybe Summer’s perspective makes sense. In the richer nations, there is demand for cleaner environments. In poorer nations, there is demand for economic opportunity, even if it has negative environmental impact (and thus negative impact on human health). In terms of supply and demand, it would make sense for polluting industries to go to those countries. The demand for the products that have a polluting production process exists, and thus either these products need to not be produced, or their going to have to be produced somewhere – who is willing to produce it?
I think overall though, Summers argument still leaves much to be desired in terms of environmental protection and human safety. But, how do we balance environmental and economic needs? I believe an important part of the solution is using market mechanisms to force industry to be less polluting and pay fair wages in all countries. A cultural shift in the consumer consciousness of rich countries may be the best approach. We must internalize the externalitites – both of the environment and labor. If the demand for ethically produced goods, being the least environmentally damaging and produced with fair wages, is present, then industry will have to modify its practices. This would mean higher costs for Americas and other rich nations, but this would reduce the gross over-consumption by requiring smarter and less purchasing due to the higher cost. Wages in rich nations could also be raised to account for the high costs. The issue would be that this greatly decreases profit for industry. While profit is the main goal of capitalism, shifting how profit can be made is necessary to have a more equitable global society. Corporations should not be making billions of dollars if they are destroying the environment and paying people unlivable wages. This kind of solution may slow growth, but it would equalize standards of living more fairly. In the long term, capitalism is an unsustainable system, but it can not be overhauled in a night. We must use the power of demand to change it for the better, and slowly transition into an overall more equitable, sustainable system.
We want to hear what you think! How do we balance economic and environmental needs? Does Summers present a valid argument or is it wholly unfair? Is providing jobs or protecting the environment more important? What responsibilities do we have towards future generations? We want to hear what you think!

New Year, New Semester

Hi reader friends,

The bunch of us are back to take on the new semester after very eventful breaks. Personally, I explored a lot of vegan restaurants, cooked & hiked a lot and did my share of political action against our new white house administration, which you may know is not the most environmentally geared administration.(Women’s March on NYC  & Paterson Great Falls National Park

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Paterson Great Falls National Park (1/10/17)

pictured below) 

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Women’s March on NYC (1/21/17)

Three housemates were able to study abroad as well, which I’m sure they would love to elaborate on individually.

When most of us arrived back on Sunday the 22nd, our heat was broken which left us shivering for two nights straight, but I mean at least we saved gas, right???? No, it was bad. But eventually it WAS fixed and we are back to freezing a bit less. Even with the heat functioning, there’s still some work to be done in the house, which is incredibly drafty. Up in mine and Ellen’s room, the windows let in a lot of cold air. I attempted to close up the AC by taping a folded blanket around it, and after checking in on it about a second ago I’ve noticed that the blanket has already fallen off. So, I’m gonna have to try again at that or think of something else. Ideally, I’d like to take the AC out for the winter, that way there’s much less room for drafts. Even with that, we need to work on insulation.

We’ve had our first meeting as a house already, where we have set big goals and I have already noticed our renewed determination. In our efforts to reduce waste and increase compost, we have been paying more attention to the packaging we buy when out grocery shopping. While out yesterday with Renee, she helped keep me on track and we made sure to minimize the non-recyclable or compostable waste we were bringing into the house. Another idea for a similar purpose was to have communal paper waste box downstairs that Gina could take to get shredded at her job, to then be used at compost. This became an idea because of all of the leftover papers we have from last semester and our desire not to add them to our amounts of waste.

Other than that, there’s not much to discuss yet since it is so early on. I’m taking two scheduled classes, three including the course credit from living in the House, so I’ve got plenty of more time this semester than I did last. It will be interesting to see how much more time I will be able to devote to the house all things considered. I’m excited for the events we will be hosting this semester as well, as I’ll be ideally hosting a vegan baking session with facts on environmental benefits of eating less animal based and how to accomplish that as a college student with limited food options. Now that we have formed bonds and mutual respect in the house, I think we will have an even more successful semester this time around.

I’ll keep you posted,

Sam

 

 

Spreading the Compost Around!

Throughout this semester we have attempted to reach out to the campus community in a variety of ways. With the Permablitz, we engaged students in a service learning, community building volunteer project. This November, the Get Out the Vote Rally attracted a diverse range of students in a socially active and environmentally spirited event. The 13th and Union Tree tours engaged the younger generation with the environment. The Sustainability House Round Table engaged interested students in an intimate conversation about sustainability. With my event for the semester, I chose to make an impact with other students living in and around campus in houses.

And what might you ask is a fun and easy way to engage students in sustainable living? What else but composting! With 33 million tons of food wasted in the US every year, which results in concentrated release of harmful methane and takes up increasingly valuable space, composting is an easy way to reduce this unnecessary pressure. Even better, it produces a super rich, healthy soil additive to grow your own produce! Growing your own produce shifts dependence away from the harmful industrial agriculture system, promotes healthier lives, and connects people with the earth. Its a beautiful thing to share with people, so I set out to get my friends and colleagues involved!

Image result for compostI got 5 gallon paint buckets and put the dos and don’ts of composting right on the lid for ease of use and from there went knocking on doors! Of the 12 houses contacted, only 5 were willing to participate but I still feel getting even one person to start composting that wasn’t before is a step in the right direction. I met with one individual from each of these households, we reviewed the rules, and I gave them a sheet to hang in their kitchen with more specific rules. The excitement from those who participated was heartwarming and it showed me the value of reaching out to individuals to create the environmental change we need in the world.

We have decided to keep this event “open” by advertising the ability for houses to start composting by contacting me for a meeting. Hopefully this way, the word can keep spreading, we can get more and more people to compost, and those who participate will carry this habit into the rest of their life, share it with their children, and create a cascade of positive change.

The rules are easy! Find yourself a bucket that closes and keep it in your house or on your porch. Then throw in browns and greens. If you get a 50-50 mixture of browns and greens, your compost will never get smelly and the compost it creates with be wonderfully nutrient rich! Create a pile in your backyard or put it in a compost turner, turn the pile with a pitchfork once a week, and it a number of months, you’ll have gold! Here’s the easy layout of the do’s and don’ts of composting:

Can Be Composted

Greens (Nitrogen Sources)

  • Fruits and vegetables (whole or scraps)
  • Plants/Plant prunings
  • Eggshells (crushed)Image result for vegetables
  • Coffee/tea grounds
  • Essentially, any plant material

Browns (Carbon Sources)

  • Paper (shredded/ripped)
  • Cardboard/cardstock (shredded/ripped)
  • Leaf waste, straw, wood/sticks

Can’t be composted

  • Meat/bones
  • Dairy (milk, eggs, cheese)
  • Oil
  • bread/pasta
  • Cooked foods

With all of these events, I feel we have reached out on campus in an effective manner to start building a culture of sustainable thinking on campus. Have any ideas of other ways we can affect positive change? Let us know in the comment section below!