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Green My Guy: A Semester in Review

December 6, 2009

It’s December.

I know, the sentence startled you too, didn’t it?  It seems just yesterday it was August and the blog was nothing but a faint idea.  Now, four months and 26 posts later, the semester is ending and its time to wrap up my writing for the year.

Will I continue my blogging in 2010?  Most likely.  I have so thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with “greening” Austin and I would love to keep doing so.  To all my readers, supporters, and fellow bloggers, especially Granola Tendencies, I would like to say a very warm thank you. It is your encouragement, your comments, and your “Janie, I recycled today!” text messages that have made this blog such a fulfilling and fun experience.

I would also like to say a very special thank you to Chris Scafe, of Sunflower Curbside Recycling, Kathy Richardson, operation supervisor of the Waste Reduction and Recycling Division for the City of Lawrence, Nancy O’Conner, Director of Education & Outreach at the Community Mercantile, and of course, Simran Sethi, my mentor and professor, for taking the time out to share your thoughts, knowledge, and guidance.

And as this time of year is one for reflection, here’s a look back on what I learned and some tips I have for those trying to turn a friend into a green guy or gal:

1. Be America’s Next Top Model

No, you don’t have to be 6 ft. 4 and ridiculously skinny to be a model.  Modeling, or acting out certain behaviors, is an effective way to encourage others to act the same way. When I started recycling at my house, Austin observed these behaviors and saw how easy it can be.  In turn, he set up a recycling system at his house so that he can recycle as well.  Now, even his two roommates recycle.

Posts: And You Thought Recycling Couldn’t Get Any Greener and He Recycles!

2. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

When Austin and I started talking about sustainable eating, I thought that assaulting him with pictures, facts, and stories of industrial food production, CAFOs, and pollution would surely change his mind.  It’s no surprise that it didn’t.  After speaking with Nancy O’Conner of the Community Mercantile about sustainable eating on a budget, I realized that implementing sustainable eating habits is most effective one step at a time.  With what psychologists call “The Foot-in-the-Door Technique,” people are most inclined to commit to something bigger if they first commit to something small. First, Austin committed to buying his granola at the Merc.  Now, he’s also agreed to buy bread from the local bakery.  Slow and steady wins the race.

Post: Eating Sustainably Without Breaking the Bank

3. You say poh-tae-toe, I say pa-ta-toe

Sometimes it is the way we perceive something that keeps us from changing.  From experiences, memories, and beliefs we accumulate in our lives, each person has a different associative network in their minds.  This means that while Austin and I are looking at the same situation, we may see it in completely different ways. For example, whereas he used to see his extensive collection of clothing as an indicator of financial security and social status, I saw it as a display of uncontrolled consumerism.  Having him count his clothes helped him see his habits in a different light and realize its environmental impacts.  Now, he thinks more before he buys.

Post: Reduce your socks, Reduce your footprint

4. No one likes a Negative Nelly

Like I said before, telling Austin about all the negative aspects of our food system didn’t encourage him to change his behavior.  In a way, I would “punish” his unsustainable eating habits by trying to make him feel guilty for eating a hamburger or fast food.  It wasn’t until he suddenly bought a ton of farmer-produced dried nuts and fruit at the suggestion of a close friend, that I realized how important positive reinforcement was or how influential our social circle can be.  Encouraging sustainable activity through praise and support is much more effective than using scare tactics or criticisms.

Posts: Going Nuts for Nuts and Would You Like Some E.Coli on that Burger?

5. Have Fun!

Though “greening” Austin may have been frustrating at times, we’ve tried to have fun through the whole experience.  Being willing to compromise, listen, and understand are all important to encouraging others to be more sustainable without damaging your relationship.

Good luck to you in “greening” your guy or gal and thanks again for joining Austin and I on our little eco-journey!

What has been your favorite “Green Girl Meets All-American Boy” post?


All-American Boy Meets Green Girl…by Austin

December 6, 2009

Alright, it’s my turn to talk now.

For weeks, Janie has been blogging while I’ve been hiding in the shadows like some Frankenstein science experiment.  Every Sunday, you see the result of our weekly experiences, but you never get the chance to hear my side of the story.  So here’s greenmyguy…from the guy himself:

other green guys: Shrek...

One day Janie approached me and asked if she could transform me from an environmentally “un”-friendly individual into someone who understood why it’s important to be conscious about our environment. I was inquisitive and wondered what on earth this 15 week blog would entail, not knowing if I would even be able to go along with the changes she asked of me. After all, I thought the way I was living was already harmonious with the environment and there was no reason for me to change my habits. It turns out that I was dead wrong.

In general, I disregarded recycling, neglected buying sustainable foods, and simply wasn’t aware of the fact that my daily activities could potentially be detrimental to our environment and my own future. Through various means Janie slowly altered my diet, wasteful habits, and sometimes even my wardrobe. When I felt she was being overbearing and her recommended changes really wouldn’t affect me, she proved to me that the grass really is greener on the other side by showing me proven facts, videos, and research papers generated by critics such as Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser.

Janie: What was your favorite experience?

Austin: The “food challenge” post, where we compared industrial food with local food.  I enjoyed getting up early and going to the farmers market, talking to the farmers and trying the different foods.  It gave me a chance to try something different and see how other people eat and buy their food.  I was able to witness firsthand the connection these farmers make with their customers and the community.

Janie: What affected you the least?

...The Incredible Hulk

Austin: Trying to eat the tofu burger and Meatless Mondays.  Though I liked trying vegetarian food, I personally would never stop eating meat.  I enjoy the taste, texture, and nutritional value of meat.  I’d rather not think about the negative consequences of eating meat because I don’t think I’d ever be able to give it up.

I have, however, minimized my intake of meat.  I’ve stopped making meat the focal point of my meal, but rather tried to eat less of it.  I’ve become more conscious of eating smaller, healthier portions and mixing in more vegetables.  But I would never give up meat for tofu.

Janie: What was the most effective change?

Austin: I think that I’ll continue recycling my whole life.  It’s like “once you pop, you can’t

stop.”  Once I started recycling, every time thereafter that I threw

something into the trash can, I thought to myself, “Why should I throw this away when I could recycle this?”  The only work that went into it was taking everything to the recycling center.  I was astonished to see my roommates start recycling too, especially since they’ve never recycled in their lives.

Janie: What advice would you give to those wanting to “green” their friends?

...and Gumby!

Austin: Start small.  You can’t assume that a person is willing to change their life completely because of what some food critic or scientist says.  Also, constantly encouraging and reinforcing sustainable ideas in their daily lives and thoughts really helps.

Janie: Do you think you’ve been “greened”?

Austin: Yes, I have been “greened” in a way.  My actions may not be as green as others, but I do think that my thoughts have become much “greener.”  I’m more aware about environmental issues and I’ve opened myself up to living sustainably.  As a college student, with a limited budget, I don’t really have the chance to make any significant changes.  However, there are small changes I can and have made. What I’ve learned from this project is that being green can be easy; the hard part is encouraging others to follow suit.

I’ve been “greened”…is there someone you know that could be “greened” as well?

Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving Everyday

November 29, 2009

I’m scared of pie.

That’s right, you read that correctly.  I am scared of its soft, sweet center and its crunchy crust.  Eating too much pie this Thanksgiving weekend has both Austin and I wincing at the idea of food in general.  And unfortunately, neither of us have escaped the food fallout from Thanksgiving.

In our fridge?  More than 16 slices of pie, cheesecake, and tiramisu, pawned off to us from family members and friends.

Throwing away the pie is not an option.  Not only do Austin and I hate the idea of wasting food, but wouldn’t it be horribly ironic to throw away food from a holiday that’s all about being thankful for food?  At a time when the global food market is still highly unstable and many Americans are turning to food banks for help, we must appreciate the fact that unlike many others, we still have the luxury of eating when we are hungry.

Unfortunately, food banks and community shelters only take non-perishable food items, not half-eaten pies.  At a time when some have so much and others so little, what can we do to minimize that gap?  And how do we do it without putting further strain on our natural resources?

Some may say to donate food and money to those in need, but I think that’s just a short-term fix.  Simply giving food to the starving doesn’t provide a lasting solution.

Others say that the problem lies in the government, the industrial food system, overpopulation or a culmination of all three. One issue only seems to lead to another and everything only seems to get more and more complicated.  I wish I could say I have a solution, that while sitting here at my computer in Kansas, I came up with a way to solve world hunger.

Rather, what I want to say is this: Thanksgiving comes but once a year to remind us to be thankful for what we have: from family and friends to food and football.  Just because the leftovers now sit in stacks of Tupperware does not mean that the feeling of thanks must also be stored away until the next year.

Giving thanks for every meal, not just the important ones, does two things.  First, it reminds us of how lucky we are.  Second, it changes our mindset from one that perceives food as packages, brand names, and calories to one that appreciates it for what it does: satiating our hunger, helping us grow, and giving us something to enjoy.

Think to your last meal.  Did you gobble it down or enjoy every bite?  Do you even remember what you ate?

Eat Less, Waste Less

November 29, 2009

Three days after Thanksgiving and I am still stuffed.  Could it be the mountains of mashed potatoes?  Maybe the several slices of bread?  Perhaps the pumpkin pie, the chocolate pie, and the cheesecake?  On this most gluttonous of all holidays, Americans get to do what we do best: overeat.

Despite efforts to lower our portions, reach for the veggies, and drink lots of water, most of us inevitably go for one too many seconds (or thirds or fourths).  This tendency to over stuff with stuffing can have serious effects on our health and our environment.  Thousands of acres of land is deforested every year to make room for agriculture. Our modern food system uses huge amounts of fossil fuels to produce our food. One out of four people is obese and that number is only growing.

How then, do we minimize our munching?  In his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, author David A. Kessler M.D. explains that our hypereating is a result of the food industry tapping into and taking advantage of our basic biological instincts.  Here’s a video from the author:

But the problem isn’t just with how much we’re eating.  Ironically, there’s also a problem with how much we’re throwing away.  At a time when many around the world are going hungry, Americans throw away about 40% of all food produced.  That’s about 150 trillion calories!

Austin and I both work in the restaurant business as servers and we can both attest to how wasteful many people are when it comes to their food.  On many occasions, customers take a few bites and throw the rest away–food that many others are struggling to provide for their families.

Here’s a video that I stumbled upon on the Wasted Food website that does a excellent job of illustrating the effects of food waste and how to minimize that waste:

Though New Years Day is still a month away, it is not too early to make a few food resolutions:

1. Eat less.

2. Waste less.

3. Enjoy more.

Can One Movie Save the Planet?

November 22, 2009

“Man, I want KFC.”

“No, you know what sounds good?  A Junior Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s.”

These were definitely not the reactions I was expecting after watching Food Inc with Austin and his roommate Blake.

Unable to attend a showing of the movie at the University of Kansas this past week, Austin and Blake watched the DVD this morning instead.  I knew the movie probably wouldn’t turn them into complete organic eaters or vegetarians, but I hoped that watching the movie and having a more visual representation of what our current food system is like would be more effective.

What was most interesting about their reactions to the movie was how the plight of the modern farmer seemed to resonate the most with Austin and Blake.  Having grown up in Western Kansas and seen firsthand the effects of industrial farms on small family farms, they felt most connected to the stories of farmers caught under the control of large food corporations.

Blake: It all has to do with money.  It’s like what that one guy in the movie said about Lady Justice with her scales and how the winner is whoever can pile the most money onto their side of the scale.  Wal-mart is switching to more organic for the profitsMonsanto is suing farmers for the money.

Austin: You asked if I would change my eating habits after watching the movie.  Probably not.

Then again Janie, if we shopped smarter we could probably afford to buy more local or organic groceries.  We do spend a lot of our excess income on unnecessary items. We treat ourselves out all the time.  It just takes some self-control to save that money so that we can eat better.

But all it boils down to the fact that the food I’m eating now doesn’t bother me.  I’m a healthy individual, I like the food we eat, and I’m going to continue eating that way.  But basically the whole idea of the movie is that it has to be changed on a grand scale.  Policies have to change with people backing it up.  We can’t really do anything individually.  It has to be a massive effort.

Can one movie change a person?  It appears that in this instance, Austin and Blake remained unaffected.  Though a bit disappointed, I realize that it is difficult to change a person’s established mindset with a 90 minute documentary.  Change is not sudden.  It is not immediate, easy, nor a one-time thing.  It takes time, encouragement, and gradual implementation.

Living more sustainably is not an easy thing to do.  Sometimes it is easier to go out for fast food, pop in a TV dinner, or reach for a bag of chips.  Sometimes I get so frustrated I write a whole blog post about it.

But I like to think it’s kind of like exercising.  Sometimes you are motivatd and you hop on that treadmill every day of the week.  Other times you feel discouraged or lazy and sit on the couch and play Call of Duty 2 every day (ahem, Austin…).  But when those down weeks or days or moments happen, you can’t just quit.  You get off that couch and get on your treadmill.  You put down the fast food and head to the farmer’s market to show your support for eating and living sustainably.

Food, Why Must You Be So Frustrating?

November 21, 2009

Ok.  I’m frustrated.

With what you ask?  Three things: the girl behind me in the theater, my breakfast, and Taco Bell.  They may not seem to have anything in common, but they do.  Let me explain…

Last night I went to a free showing of the documentary, Food Inc., at the University of Kansas.  It was a wonderful event hosted by KU’s environmental student organization, the Environs.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Food Inc. yet, the film is about our nation’s food industry and how it contributes to the many health, environment, and social issues we currently face.


Here’s the trailer:

The event drew a wide variety of people–some who were genuinely interested in learning more about our food system, some who came to accompany a friend, and some who came for the free popcorn.  It was exciting seeing so many people there, whatever their reason for coming.

So it is at this time I would like to take a moment, before expressing my frustrations, to thank all those who went to see Food Inc. and brought a friend. In bringing someone who might not have gone on their own, you are opening their mind to new thoughts and new ideas.  It is through these simple human interactions that ideas are shared, actions are enacted, and changes are made.  So thank you, girl with roommate or guy with friend.  You have made a difference today.

And on to my frustrations:

1. Girl who sat behind me in the theater during Food Inc.

We’re in the middle of the movie, Michael Pollan is explaining the proliferation of corn in our food system, and I’m debating whether I have a bigger crush on Michael Pollan or Gerald Butler…when I look behind me.  This girl has cracked open a diet coke and was drinking it with a great amount of pleasure.  Really?  The film has just explained how soda is essentially liquid corn, a product of government subsidies, and a contributor to obesity…and you’re gulping the stuff down without a second thought.

How does that happen?  How do you not connect what the film is saying with what you are doing?  Psychologists refer to this type of disconnect as cognitive dissonance theory. The theory goes that when a person is experiencing two contradictory ideas or actions, they will try to reduce the conflict by changing their attitude, belief, or behavior.

Therefore, when the girl opened her diet coke, she may have changed her attitudes in a variety of ways in order to justify her actions.  She may have told herself that her one diet coke wouldn’t make a difference, or that she had no other options to quench her thirst.  Which brings me to my second frustration…

2. My breakfast

First off, I’d like to say that I love breakfast.  It is quite possibly my favorite meal of the day, which is wonderful because it is also the most important meal of the day.

The morning after I attended the Food Inc. showing was like every other morning: I woke up day dreaming about what to eat for breakfast.  As I looked through my pantry however, rather than seeing bread, cereal, and soy milk, all I could see was HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUPPROCESSED FOODSGENETICALLY MODIFIED SOYBEANS.  And here’s where I find myself in the same shoes as the girl who sat behind me: don’t eat breakfast and go to school hungry (or) eat breakfast and ignore the contents.

I ate breakfast.  With still quite a bit of internal conflict mind you.

3. Taco Bell

Taco Bell is good for one thing only: 3 am post-partying munchies.  However, Austin’s craving for cheap Ameri-Mexican food took us through the Taco Bell drive-thru after school.

My mind screamed, “No!  Remember what you saw in Food Inc.” My stomach simply saw the Cheesy Gordita Crunch and growled…

You would think that after watching a documentary like Food Inc. I would be quick in changing my ways.  After all, the movie’s message made sense to me and I felt encouraged in eating more sustainably.  Why then, despite my attitude toward food, was my behavior reluctant to follow suit?  It seems that while beliefs and mindsets are easy to change, actions are must more difficult to alter.

How then, do we inspire both change in mind and action?

When have you felt conflicted between one action and its more environmentally friendly counterpart?  What did you do in that situation?

Eating Sustainably Without Breaking the Bank

November 15, 2009

For many people, like Austin and his roommates, the only thing standing between them and sustainable eating is money, money, money.

“Janie, we drink about four gallons of milk a week.  Yeah, local milk tastes a whole lot better and I would get that instead of regular milk.  But paying $3.50 for a gallon is too expensive for us.  It just isn’t worth it.”

I agree, buying sustainable foods can be difficult for those on a budget…but it doesn’t have to be.

Recently, I visited the Community Mercantile, a co-op natural foods store here in Lawrence.  I sat down with Nancy O’Conner, MS ed, Nutrition Educator and Outreach Coordinator, to find out how those on a budget can satisfy their desire to eat more sustainably without emptying their wallets.

First, for those who don’t know what the Merc is and all it has to offer (from cooking classes to after school education programs to Ready-to-Go Thanksgiving Dinners), check out the video below for some more information:

As you can see, the Merc isn’t just a grocery store, but a community center as well.  In addition to providing groceries and other products, it benefits the local community by supporting local farmers, encouraging nutritional eduction in our schools, and fostering relationships between consumers and producers by offering co-op memberships.

So how do we shop at stores at the Merc without breaking out budget?

In short, focus on what you care most about.  Is it organic produce or free-range meat?  Is is local milk or free-trade coffee?  Eating sustainably doesn’t mean changing your entire grocery list.  Start with certain foods that are most important to you.

Incorporating sustainable foods by starting with one or two items is what eco-psychologists call: “Foot in the Door Technique.” By committing to something small first, it becomes easier to commit to something bigger.  For example: My family used to only recycle paper.  It was easy to collect and easy to recycle.  Then we started using curbside recycling and recycled cans, plastic, and cardboard in addition to paper.  Now, we recycle glass as well, even though that requires driving to a recycling center.

Many people think small changes won’t make a big difference.  What they forget is that small changes don’t stay small for long.

To find a natural foods store near you, click here!

Austin loves his organic granola and natural peanut butter while I love organic produce.  What is your sustainable food of choice?