And the answer is…



So how does one get by without plastic? I lost a bit of sleep, I’ll confess, when faced with the conundrum of how to bring my produce and bulk food home without plastic sacks. That the bags offered at our local health food stores were supposedly biodegradable did not comfort me. I wanted to get to the next level. Without having my broccoli wilt a day after bringing it home.

The answer, it seems, is cloth. For under ten dollars I made two dozen drawstring muslin bags of all sizes, for everything from huge heads of kale to poppyseeds. I empty the bulk foods into jars once home from the store. Flours get to stay in their sacks because they are stored in the fridge. So far all durable produce like kale and carrots and broccoli is staying fresh. If I notice something drying out a bit, I spray the bag with a little water. And I do use everything within a week.

Did you know you get bag credit for every bag you bring, not just the grocery sacks that cart everything home? Or that it makes you feel like a million bucks to get home from the store without a single plastic bag to worry about an albatross eating? That keeping food in cloth and glass feels, well, nicer to the food? And that many stores sell muslin bags readymade for your shopping pleasure?

Now we both do.

Everyday Beauty


This clay pot made it to one potluck before the knob broke off its lid and it was relegated to a high, forgotten shelf in the kitchen where it has been collecting dust for years. It is now our bread bowl. How we survived so long without such a utilitarian piece of handmade beauty gracing our everyday lives, I know not. It keeps our bread fresh without refrigeration or plastic bags, and gives us something lovely to look at and handle during the ordinary act of putting food on the breakfast table.

There are lots of reasons to forego plastic. There is the harm it inflicts to the land and ocean during its production and disposal, and the danger it poses to animals and to our own bodies. There are the questionable ethics of using petroleum and natural gas products, and the simple yearning to live with less impact.

But today the reason I care the most about is this: Living without plastic can make life more beautiful.

Late Season Harvests


I’m feeling a bit more willing to say goodbye to fall now that some last minute herb harvesting has been done. These dried Calendula flowers are destined to bring sunshine to our tea this winter, and a steeped oil of them will get pressed this week and made into a rich, golden salve for our wounds. Mama brought some chokecherry branches down from the mountains. The bark peeled off into red lengths that smell like a medicinal, fruity almond wood. Steeped overnight in cold water and sweetened with honey, it will make an able cough syrup for the inevitable next round of el grippe.

And speaking of harvests, Earth Care’s 2010 edition of The Sustainable Santa Fe Guide is ripe for the picking all over Santa Fe. It will also soon be available for viewing here. I had the pleasure of working on the guide as a contributing editor, and was moved by many of the articles on everything from how stories can tap the power of place to guerilla gardening to bringing our endangered river back to life.

Even with the fruits of the late fall season falling on my doorstep, I’m in no hurry for the last color to fade away. Just a little more ready.

Welcome to Old Recipe for a New World


Thanks for dropping by.

The recipe we’re cooking these days is simple: less waste, more joy. Will it help to create a new world? At our house, maybe.

We’re gearing up (down?) for a four month fast from buying plastic. It’s a symbolic action, a way for us to live more in line with our principles. A show of solidarity with an increasingly troubled planet, if you will.

I’ll be posting our discoveries of how to get by in a post-plastic world (well, almost – we get to keep the plastic we already have, and cherish those bottles and baggies like they deserve to be cherished). Eventually I’ll be taking hard looks at the facts of consumption and waste, and sharing some of our reasons for making what amounts to a pretty big lifestyle change.

But know that the roots of this journal are planted in the soil of simplicity, wonder, and love. It’s a fertile ground, that. Already I’ve found much to celebrate in the handmade, the natural world, the kitchen, and the goat barn. As we close the doors on old patterns, they open to the surprising abundance of a life lived more carefully.

Commencing to Feast


Speaking of abundance, we’ve signed up for a winter share with a local CSA, Beneficial Farms. This week, the first in November, we brought home hefty bags loaded with apples, kale, collards, onions, baby beets, scallions, salad greens, arugula, and persimmons.

While our decision to go plastic free is a very personal, symbolic action, joining a CSA offers immediate and significant results. Our carbon footprint from importing food from out of state/country is vastly reduced, while our money goes directly towards strengthening local food systems. It helps create the world we want to live in.

Seasonal food from within our foodshed. You bet it tastes better.

Psst. It’s cheaper, too.

The Unexpected Abundance of Going Without


Here’s the deal: we’re quitting plastic.

Not forever. For four months. Starting January first, we will buy no new plastic. Nothing wrapped in plastic, nothing made of plastic. No new plastic.

At its core this semester-long experiment is a way for us to step outside our comfort zone, so rife with cop-outs like filling our eco totes with heavily packaged food. It’s a symbolic action, but one that feels necessary to take. We can’t realistically throw away the keys to our cars or turn out the lights. We can’t move to the country and live off the grid. But we can get by without plastic.

I think.

At first, I looked at the countdown to New Years Day as a doomsday march. However would we get by? I considered sneaking extra toothbrushes and packages of baby wipes into the shopping cart each week to build up a supply for desperate times.

But a funny thing happened. Once I started looking, I saw all around me how easy it was to not use plastic. The abundance was startling and intoxicating. I mean, have you ever really looked at what is available in the bulk food section of your local co-op? I hadn’t. Those hippies figured it out forty years ago. Where have I been? Trader Joe’s, apparently.

Transitioning to a plastic free life is a bit like preparing for a trip to a foreign country you’ve always wanted to visit. In my case that foreign country is The Olden Days. A land where I get to bake my family’s bread, milk goats, and churn butter. (Just kidding on that last one. If butter came wrapped in plastic I wouldn’t have agreed to this experiment.)

Of course, you don’t need to quit plastic to do any of these things. But it all fits together, this letting go of one thing and welcoming in of another. Our desire to reduce plastic to help the planet, or at least to do less harm to it in our daily lives, was the inspiration for this experiment. The potential it offers us to achieve long dormant dreams, to grow in unexpected ways, to claim our power as agents of change—these are the things that will carry it forward.

It’s still two months from our experiment’s start date, but we’ve already reduced our plastic consumption by more than half. Simply opening ourselves to the idea of making such a big change has changed us in big ways.

Feeding the Grandmothers

IMG_0039IMG_0020I didn’t learn to can food from my grandmothers. That knowledge came from books and mentors, was pulled from the great Out There where such wisdom resides, waiting for whomever comes looking. From these women I inherited my eyes and nose, a hefty dose of sentimentality, and faith in the unseen. When I think of the generations of grandmothers stretching back into time, it makes me a bit dizzy, as when I gaze up at the Milky Way and try to fathom how big the universe really is. Each ancestor in my lineage–and yours, too–faced unique challenges on both the personal and cultural level. Like us they found ways to celebrate, to love their families, and to forge onward. A few nights ago, when the moon was bright and fat through the apple branches, I put a serving of dinner out among the fallen leaves. I spooned a helping of apple sauce made from that very tree on top, and said a short prayer of thanks. It went like this:   Thank you, thank you, thank you for this good life we lead. May we use it well.

And so it Begins

After a week of winter it’s warm again. Bread rises on the counter. The baby sleeps.
Worry over what’s in store for the planet gives way to the pleasure of the moment:

this cup of tea, this drinking in of peace.

It began simply, slowly, this adventure in old fashioned living.
What seemed difficult and unnatural has proven just the opposite.

And so our efforts have grown. Just as our impact on the planet decreases.
Life grows simpler and simpler, as do our goals.
Less waste. More joy.
It’s an old recipe for a new world.

And we’re making it up as we go.