Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Eating green: some basic principles

One of the most basic ways to make a positive impact on both the environment and on your personal health is changing the way we eat. Just as global temperatures have risen over the past 20+ years, so have obesity rates in the U.S. Check out the links below.
More time spent in cars and less walking or biking, more time spent indoors watching television and using more energy per household. Adds up quick. So here are some easy ways to start changing your eating habits to help Cincinnati.

Eat local

The average grocery-store produce travels 1,500 miles just to get to the store. So when you get it, its carbon footprint is huge. Plus, sellers must spray produce with chemicals to keep them looking fresh longer.

The good news: buying local gets easier in Cincinnati all the time. The website Local Harvest helps you find nearby farmers' markets, as does Cincinnati Farmers' Markets (the latter has more coverage). so in addition to Findlay Market in OTR, there are lots of great nearby options. For example, my wife and I stop regularly at the Lunken Airport Farmers' Market, where we get blueberries, garlic, onions, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini (when our garden's empty), scallions, peaches, and potatoes. And that's just the beginning. We also have a nearby Thursday Farmers' Market in Mt. Washington, a Saturday Farmers' Market in Anderson, and a Sunday market in Hyde Park. Good people, good company, good food.

Also, Cincinnati Locavore is a great resource for all things local-food related, including restaurants that source local food.

Choose fresh, not frozen

Frozen food has gotten better tasting over time, and sales have gone way up as well. Plus, thanks to better living through chemistry, much frozen food has the same nutritional content as its fresh counterparts (think of individual items here like blueberries, not Swanson's Angry Man dinners). However, creating meals, freezing them, shipping them across the country, and continuing to store them in freezers causes environmental havoc because it requires so much more energy. I know that frozen foods are time savers for parents with children (the rise in frozen food sales corresponds to the rise in the number of families where both parents work), but fresh food tastes better, sustains local farms, and makes cooking more fun. It's pretty amazing to eat a dinner of salad and herbs from your garden along with potatoes, green beans, and collard greens you bought from a farmer in Northern Kentucky.

Eat organic, and eat green

Bad news about meat: most of the commercially produced beef in the U.S. is full of fat and antibiotics. Same with poultry, though to a lesser extent. The good news: eating vegetarian, or at least cutting your meat habit way down, has never been easier. (Well, at least not in our lifetime.) Great vegetarian cookbooks abound, and more grocery stores sell organic tofu, tempeh, and beans. Cook them well, and they're great. Plus, restaurants offer more and better veggie options all the time.

And about organics: they don't contain pesticide residues, and they just taste better. The following twelve fruits and vegetables are the biggest carriers of pesticides when grown "traditionally":
  • peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, imported grapes, pears, spinach, potatoes
The good news is that I've seen organic options for all these in local bigg's and Kroger stores. They're a little more expensive right now, but greater demand will bring down the prices. Plus, you're not filling yourself with chemicals that damage your body.

So start there. It's easier than you think.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reusable materials

New feature: every once in a while, I'm going to post a few things together worth looking at. Links, videos, photos, etc. I'm calling this feature "Reusable materials." I hope you enjoy it.


I'm way behind on this, obviously, but the video of Al Gore's recent challenge is definitely worth watching. The general consensus about his plan seems to be that it's highly unlikely that we could achieve it but that shooting for 100% sustainable energy and reaching 60% would be well worth the effort. It would require quick action from the Federal government along with the agreement of most (if not all) state governments, but that's not too farfetched. And there's no good reason not do follow Gore's plan. Check out the website, too.

This week, CinWeekly features green housing projects in Cincinnati. I don't see many faults in the articles (though I don't think they mention population density and housing density). Check them out. (There are three different links.)

Finally, we forgot to check on one of our zucchini plants this last week. Result below. (Wine bottle for scale.) Not sure what we're going to do with it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I admit I've never understood car names (Stanza, for example), but today I saw my new favorite: the Jeep Liberty Freedom Edition! In 2003, Jeep put out a Freedom Edition of each of their vehicles, but nothing can beat the Liberty Freedom for pure redundancy. Other examples I hope to see:
  • Happiness, Joy Edition
  • Depression: A Melancholy Tale
  • The Phantom Menace: Nostalgia Wrecker

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Go rent King Corn

As an experiment, next time you're at the grocery store, read the label of everything you would normally pick out. Check the ingredients for "high fructose corn syrup." If it's there, put it back on the shelf.

The recent documentary King Corn does a whimsical and surprisingly powerful job of exploring how corn came to be the dominant crop in the United States. Two college friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, move to Greene, Iowa after graduation to grow one acre of corn. They learned, largely by accident, that both their great-grandfathers grew up in the same small county in Iowa, and they both want to connect to their lost heritage. For the sake of the film, the gimmick of growing a single acre of corn sets them on their way.

The tone of the movie is especially impressive for two reasons. One, we watch the two friends encounter their ancestry and discover how distant even Iowa has become from its oldest traditions (for example, one hundred years ago most Iowa farmers ate the crops they produced; now, very few of them can). Two, they approach the issues surrounding agriculture and health with admirable restraint and deftness. Whereas Michael Moore would be aggressive, they are calmly humane. Still, they manage to produce a pretty stunning indictment of corn production in the United States.

The short version: before the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid farmers to underproduce their crops. But in the mid-70s, Nixon's head of Agriculture changed the system; the government began paying farmers to overproduce. That led to an excess of corn production. In turn, the government subsidizes alternate uses of corn, including ethanol production and the creation of high fructose corn syrup, which is a cheap substitute for sugar but adds calories without adding nutrients. (When Ian and Curt make high fructose corn syrup in their home, we see just how vile it is.)

High fructose corn syrup has been linked to the greatly increased incidence of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. Unfortunately, it's in many pre-packaged foods and sodas, and most people have no idea of its effects. Thanks to King Corn, the message is spreading. With any luck, the Department of Agriculture will shift its emphasis on overproduction, and the vast excess of corn can shrink.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hypermiling basics: the video

Above is a short movie I made with five basic hypermiling techniques. These are all safe, legal, and efficient. I'll have more video posts about hypermiling later, but there's a lot to think about. I didn't want the video to be overwhelmingly long.

In the meantime, here are some very useful hypermiling links.
Leave suggestions and thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ass transit

Back in the day, before auto companies convinced the city to rip it up, Cincinnati had a great streetcar system downtown, complete with funiculars that went uphill to great neighborhoods like Mt. Adams. Now, though, Cincinnati has terrible mass transit. Like most major urban areas in the U.S., Cincinnati has seen whites and capital flee the city's center for the suburbs. Ideally, the city would have multimodal mass transit, since downtown hosts many jobs but relatively few homes. Instead, we have a bus system that isn't bad but can't serve as the only mass-transit system for a metro area that serves roughly three-million people. (Only about 300,000 of the people live in the city proper.) Help is on the way, but slowly, as is Cincinnati's wont.

I like riding the Metro system here, especially since its acronym is SORTA, while Northern Kentucky's is TANK. Those seem appropriate, since Northern Kentucky has taken advantage of development possibilities, while Cincinnati has lagged behind. Also, though I live in Mt. Washington, I can walk one block to the bus stop, and route 24 drops me off at UC's campus. For me, that's forty minutes of reading. If I want, I can put my bike on the front of the bus and ride once I get off. It's an effective system but not nearly enough for a city.

Below is a map of Metro's bus routes:

I've overlayed that with an image of Cincinnati's population density:

Set aside for a moment the fact that I suck at Photoshop. (Technically, I don't, since I don't have Photoshop, but still.) It's pretty clear that the bus routes serve the most populous areas but drop off pretty significantly after that. If you don't live near a bus stop, or if you need to transfer, you don't have much choice but to drive. In terms of energy efficiency, we might as well be riding asses. (Hence the title of the post; get your head out of the gutter.)

Imagine rail lines going up and down I-71 and I-75, with Park & Rides that correspond roughly with interstate exits. Imagine a rail that follows the Columbia Parkway, continuing up North through Mariemont and Milford. And a rail that goes along the Norwood lateral. Not only would those cut down on the horrible traffic in the city, but they'd also help people save money on gas and support development throughout the city. Plus, we have a bad smog problem thanks to the river valley; cars only make it worse.

These aren't pipe dreams. (I hope.) But they aren't happening anytime soon, so in my next post, I'll write about how my wife and I are getting the most gas mileage out of our car.

Looking for a green house?

(As opposed to a greenhouse.) There are two LEED-certified houses in Northside (more on the way), and you can check out the listing for one of them. It’s a beautiful home, inside and out, and not too expensive, especially in the long term, considering energy savings. I don’t live in a LEED-certified home, but I wish I did. If I were moving, I’d put a bid in on this one. Great house, neighborhood with lots to do, nearby buses (a rarity round here).

Welcome to Green in Cincinnati

Welcome to Green in Cincinnati, one local citizen’s guide to greening your life in a city it’s not always easy being green in. (Cue Kermit.)

Quick about me: I’m a Ph.D. student in English at UC, and I’ve lived here for four years. Recently, my wife and I decided to make our lives more sustainable. More organics, more local, less pollution, etc. I’m not going as far as No Impact Man, though I’d like to get as close to that as possible.

Quick about the blog: This blog exists for two reasons. One, I want to show people what my wife and I are doing so others in Cincinnati (and elsewhere) can take part and green their lives. Two, I know I’ve got lots of room for improvement, and any and all suggestions are welcome. My goal is to post a minimum of twice a week, with one video post every two weeks. I’m aiming for the video posts to make some of what I’m doing more transparent; in other words, I’ve seen some greening blogs that are hard to follow and can be condescending. (Note: I can be a little smug, too, and probably will be in some of the posts. I’m working on it.)

So here we go. Knock on FSC-certified wood.