Minnesota Hot Dish

This week I visited my colleagues in Eagan, Minnesota, to capture on film their various expertise (don’t ask me to explain what they do, I stay behind the camera for a reason). There were several other visitors, so the Eagan folks organized a traditional Minnesota potluck, with traditional Minnesota foods such as Mexican lasagna, jello salad, and other hot dishes. Those Tater Tots took me right back to childhood…

Thanks, Eagan gang, for a yummy lunch and very good company. I’ll definitely be back for your next party!

10 Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Environmental Impact and Save Money (Pt 2)

  1. Tip one – use fewer bottles – was published earlier.
  2. Recycle. We’ve been recycling in Italy for so long that I wince when I see plastic and paper going into the general waste stream. Most parts of the US offer recycling now, and it’s not that much extra effort to do it. This includes composting food waste – your garden will thank you for that.
  3. Go paperless. Most financial organizations and other companies you pay regular bills to will be happy to stop sending you paper reminders – they can send them by email instead, in most cases you can choose how far in advance of the due date you want to be reminded. And most can be paid, automatically or not, directly from your bank, so you don’t have to write out a check and use an envelope and a stamp to get it there. Heck, don’t even send paper Christmas cards. Personally, I’d prefer you called to wish me a happy holiday, and with the phone plans most of us have these days, that call will be free, or at least cost less than a first-class stamp. One online friend has just eliminated the expense and hassle of wedding invitations and formal, mailed responses: she’s doing it all via a website.
  4. Another way to go paperless: Use cloth handkerchiefs instead of kleenex, dish cloths instead of paper towels, cloth instead of paper napkins – all can be used multiple times, then washed and reused. (“Eww gross, I don’t want to wipe my mouth with someone else’s napkin! How do I know which napkin is mine?” Personalized napkin rings.) Strictly avoid all those “convenience” wipes and other single-use cleaning products. Toilet paper and “women’s sanitary supplies” are probably unavoidable uses of paper, at least in American culture (hint: in India, you clean your butt with water, Europeans have bidets). On the other hand, with diaper services, cloth diapers are a viable alternative to plastic ones in this country.
  5. Do you really need newspapers delivered to your door? So many of those pages are just advertising anyway, and you know you’re never going to read it all. Why not just read the news you’re really interested in online? You can get the nation’s best newspapers right on your desktop every day, free gratis.
  6. Be conscious and conservative in your use of plastic. For example, instead of wrapping leftover food in plastic wrap or putting it in a ziploc bag, put it in a reusable plastic container with a lid. You don’t even have to buy those things, so many foods come in reusable containers (although the colorful one-pound margarine tubs of my childhood appear to be out of fashion now).
  7. Use less heating and air-conditioning. I wish the managers of public spaces and offices would practice this. It’s ridiculous to have to take a sweater to cinemas, malls, and restaurants in summer because the air conditioning is so cold you’ll get sick without it. Likewise, it’s silly to arrive at the office in winter and instantly have to peel off layers of clothing because the heating is so damned hot. And the thermic shock of going from outside to inside, or vice-versa, probably isn’t good for you in any season.
  8. Air-dry your laundry. Yes, there are some parts of the country and times of year when this works better than others. Where I’m living now in Colorado, a dryer is absolutely superfluous, even on “wet” days. The local homeowners’ association would probably scream if I put clotheslines in the backyard, and anything I hung on them would blow away anyhow, so I strung clothesline in the unfinished basement. I wash and hang clothes at night, they’re dry by morning. This also saves wear on the clothes, thus, in the long run, money. In Italy we’re still using wonderfully soft linen bedsheets handed down from Enrico’s parents, they must be over 30 years old.
  9. Garden appropriately for your climate and water supply. In Colorado, that means xeriscaping instead of a lush, green lawn, which will cost you hundreds of dollars a month in water, and then you just have to mow the damned thing – and mowers are a huge source of air and noise pollution. If your activities require a lawn, there are plenty of public parks around.
  10. You tell me! What do you do to reduce consumption, pollution, and waste?

10 Simple Things You Can Do to Reduce Environmental Impact and Save Money

I’ve been back in the US for six months now, and here, as everywhere I go, I’ve been observing the local lifestyle.

Americans are increasingly concerned about their impact on the global environment, which is great, but many focus on expensive, grandiose solutions like “trade in your gas-guzzler for an expensive hybrid car”. In these cash-strapped times, there are far simpler things you can do. Yes, these are small steps, but if we all did them…

1. Reduce the number of beverage cans/bottles you buy

I see people buying boxes and flats of cans of soda, shrink-wrapped 24-packs of beverages in plastic bottles, etc. That’s an awful lot of packaging – which must be produced and then discarded or recycled – for you to drink a single serving of a beverage.

If you must buy packaged drinks, buy them in gallon jugs. If you must take such a drink with you, pour a portion into a reusable bottle.

“But that won’t preserve the fizz in my soft drinks,” you say. Myself, I rarely drink fizzy drinks except carbonated mineral water in Italy (and I’m doing perfectly well without that in the US). I don’t need the calories in “regular” soft drinks, and can’t stand the taste of artificial sweeteners (which, according to some reports, may be bad for you anyhow).

I mostly drink water, coffee, juice, and tea. I like plain iced tea in summer, but that can be hard to find; the bottled stuff you commonly see at convenience stores etc. is sweetened to an extent that curls my teeth. I make iced tea at home myself, boiling it on the stove and funneling it into an empty gallon orange-juice jug.

The only single-serving drink I can really see a use for is beer, and that comes in recyclable glass bottles.

A few months ago, some friends and I went for a hike in a California park. It was a warm day, and after a long, dusty walk I slurped eagerly at cold, fresh water from a park fountain. A child in a stroller gestured urgently at it, alerting his mother that he, too, was thirsty.

“Oh, no, honey,” she said. “Here, I’ve got water in a bottle.”

Yet another single-use plastic bottle filled by a bottler with filtered tap water that was probably less healthy and tasty than the tap water I was drinking.

…This is getting long. I’ll have to spread these tips over several posts. More soon!