Is Recycling All It’s Cracked up to Be?

Something that’s been on my mind recently is recycling.  I’ve always believed it was a good thing to do and that I was helping divert resources from landfills to be repurposed.  However, after watching some documentaries on YouTube and doing my own “research,” I wonder how often this is really the case.  Maybe recycling isn’t the “free pass” to consumerism that I thought it was.

Depending on where you live, recycling is taken to a sorting plant and then sold and shipped to be recycled elsewhere.  Up until a few years ago, China was accepting most of the used plastic from the U.S. and the rest of the world.  But, even China got tired of trying to recycle all our dirty plastic and countries in Indonesia with very little regulations to protect the people and the environment took China’s place. 

So, recycling can be a dirty business.  In some ways, throwing items in the trash is actually more socially responsible than recycling because it’s a more transparent process.  Your trash goes to a landfill or incinerator to be burned and produce energy.  Where does your recycling go?  I encourage you to find out if you can.  I was unable to get a clear answer on where mine goes or how it’s recycled after a few phone calls and 2 emails to the county waste department with no response.  At the very least, I can say the process of recycling is not a transparent one and it’s very difficult to hold people accountable when there’s a lack of transparency.  It may be that plastic is more of a problem to recycle than glass, metal, or paper.  And items that are a mix of these materials are even less likely to be recycled.

Best case scenario, your recyclables actually get repurposed as you’re led to believe.  Worst case, they go to a foreign country and end up as trash in the natural environment (not a landfill) since mixed or single-stream recycling (as is done in Harford County, MD) tends to have lots of trash materials in it that isn’t profitable for recyclers to deal with.  So, the dirty recyclables just get dumped wherever.

Now what the heck are you supposed to do?  Well, first, realize that recycling won’t save us.  There’s room for improvements to create better quality packaging that is easier to recycle and encourage more people to recycle.  However, if a person can’t even verify that recycling is actually occurring, what’s the point? 

For now, I plan to keep recycling and will try to find out where it all goes.  Maybe my faith in recycling will be restored or maybe I’ll learn I should have just thrown it all in the trashcan.  But, more importantly, I want to focus on REDUCING my use of these materials in the first place.  Reducing is the most effective and transparent part of the 3 arrows recycling symbol.  Reduce, reuse, and recycle.  Reducing just means use less materials.  There are so many ways to do this:

  • Do a home recycling audit to see what items you need to focus on (see below)
  • If you don’t recycle- do a trash audit to see what items you need to focus on
  • Buy normal or large-sized containers of food and beverages- not single serving items
  • Keep getting creative with cooking- to limit carryout and packaged items
  • Learn how to food prep– so you use less packaged items
  • If eating out- dining in produces less waste than carryout
  • Keep reusable bags in your car- avoid plastic bags
  • If you do use plastic bags- reuse them in bathroom trash cans (instead of buying small trash bags) or other uses
  • Start a garden- helps you avoid packaged produce
  • Grow something edible in a pot- helps you avoid packaged produce
  • Figure out how to cancel junk mail
  • Support a local farmer- often you can buy produce with minimal packaging or bring your own bag to put it in
  • Make your own coffee- avoid buying drinks out
  • Start canning at home- avoid canned items in stores
  • Freeze produce from garden (like tomatoes) for cooking- instead of buying canned
  • Wash and reuse plastic freezer bags- instead of using a new one
  • Buy bagged dry beans and cook in pressure cooker- limits canned items
  • Try fermenting drinks at home- buy less bottled/canned alcohol

If you have other ways to reduce the consumption of items that become trash or recyclables, leave a comment below!  There might not be much we can do about the lack of transparency in recycling, but we can definitely be more mindful as consumers and make small improvements in our habits over time to limit our use of disposable goods, regardless of if they get thrown in the trashcan or the blue can.

A home recycling audit lets you see what items you can focus on reducing.
Carryout containers are probably the easiest to reduce.

2021: Year of Social Responsibility

Today I saw something that always irritates me, but which I never do anything about. A person threw a cigarette butt out their car window. Since I was in a drive-through, both of our cars were stopped and I considered getting out of the car and picking up their cigarette butt and throwing it back in their car. Or maybe I would be courteous and say, “Excuse me, I think you dropped this.” Of course, I did neither of those things and the cigarette butt remained on the ground. I had the opportunity to take action and I chose not to.

We might debate over whose responsibility it is to deal with someone who litters, but I think we would all agree that it is ultimately the individual’s responsibility to not litter in the first place. We could probably agree that there are great benefits to not trashing up the environment, and very little, if any, hardships or negative consequences associated with disposing of ones’ trash in a trashcan. Most of us may not litter, but there are probably other actions we take that directly or indirectly have negative effects on others. Effects that are often not easily visible to us and so continue in obscurity. What if we were all more socially responsible? This is not a new idea, but one worth seriously reconsidering in the New Year.

2020 was a year that separated people literally and figuratively. People were told to stay away from their families. People were divided by politics and race. Social responsibility unifies people. It acknowledges that we’re all connected and our actions affect the people around us. And it says we care enough to hold ourselves accountable for our actions in society (as consumers and producers). Social responsibility helps build strong communities, instead of tearing them apart.

To practice social responsibility a person must be open to understanding the consequences (good and bad) of their actions. They must have integrity, empathy, and feel empowered by their ability to do things better than they used to do. The individual cannot nurture a victim mentality and be socially responsible at the same time. If one claims to be a victim, they have also absolved themselves from all responsibility for their actions, because as a victim they choose to believe their choices are entirely under the control of outside forces. Practicing social responsibility requires one to take part in their local and global community to do less harm and more good.

So, here’s to a New Year lived better than the one before. To a feeling of empowerment when we vote with our dollars in ways that are just as important, if not more so, than the vote we cast every four years. To being true to our principles even when others seem to have sold theirs. To turning off the TV when we feel our blood pressure rising. To preserving sanity, decency, and integrity in the face of forces that intend to create instability. To questioning the motives of those who try to drive humanity apart. To rebuilding community stronger than it was before. And remembering life is about more than just avoiding potential danger, but experiencing all the good that is possible, as well.

More to come…

Baked Shiitake Mushrooms

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I inoculated some oak logs with shiitake mushroom spawn. And finally, with all the recent rain, we found mushrooms growing on one of the logs! The inspiration for this recipe came from this one, which looks really good. I just made mine with a few ingredients that we had on hand.

Shiitake mushrooms

Dried thyme

Avocado oil and/or ghee

Salt and pepper

Add oil and seasonings to mushrooms on baking pan.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.  Stir on pan and bake another 10 minutes or until done. The texture was chewy in a meaty way and satisfying, unlike sauteed mushrooms. Kind of like a mushroom jerky. We just grabbed the mushrooms by the stalk and ate the caps.

Shiitakes growing on oak log (August 2020)
Shiitake mushrooms
Coat mushrooms in oil/ghee and seasonings
Baked mushrooms are meaty!

Roselle Drink

Roselle, or Hibiscus sabdariffa, is a tropical plant in the same family as okra and cacao. The leaves and flowers of roselle are edible with a tart flavor. They are great used in savory cooking to add tanginess, but this recipe is sweet. The recipe below was inspired by this one, but my recipe uses the leaves of the plant instead of the flower buds, since the plant doesn’t produce flowers outside tropical zones (the growing season is too short in Maryland). I also used whole orange chunks and different sweeteners in the drink.

1 cup fresh roselle leaves

5 cups water

1 cinnamon stick (add extra 1/2 stick if you really like cinnamon)

2 star anise

Half a small orange, cut in half

3 Tbsp turbinado sugar (or jaggery or sweetener of choice to taste)

Rinse roselle leaves.  Add all ingredients, except sweetener, to pot of water.  Simmer on stove 10 minutes.  Take off the stove, add jaggery or turbinado sugar, and let sit until cooled off.  Jaggery and tubinado are both less refined sugars. Jaggery is orange in color and often used in Indian cooking, while turbinado is light brown in color. Squeeze out the orange and strain out the solids and refrigerate. You can also squeeze the other half of uncooked orange into the drink if you like the added orange flavor.

If you would like to grow this easy plant for yourself, rareseeds.com sometimes has seeds available.

Roselle leaves
Ingredients
Add all ingredients, except sugar, to pot of water
Simmer 10 minutes
Roselle drink

Sources: Plants for a Future

Simple Pesto

Here is a simple, less expensive recipe for pesto:

2 cups packed basil leaves

1-2 cloves garlic

¼ cup sunflower seeds 

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend sunflower seeds and garlic in food processor enough to break up garlic well.  Add basil and olive oil and blend to desired consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Eat fresh or freeze as pesto ice cubes or pesto logs. Frozen pesto is great for soups and pasta in the winter!

Basil leaves picked off stem
Main ingredients for pesto
Food processed garlic and sunflower seeds
Add basil leaves
Finished pesto
Scoop onto parchment paper or plastic wrap and wrap into log
Than wrap in aluminum foil and freeze in freezer bag

What do Mustard, Arugula, Kale, and Radish Have in Common?

They are all members of the Brassicaceae or mustard family of plants.  They are also known as cruciferous vegetables because their flowers have four petals that resemble a crucifix or cross (from the Latin, cruciferae).  These plants contain sulfur compounds, called glucosinolates, which when broken down (by your gut bacteria or plant enzymes) can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer effects.  Mustard greens contain about twice as many glucosinolates as kale.

Fun fact: Did you know that the spicy chemicals in mustard that make your nose burn aren’t actually created in the plant until you take a bite out of it?  When you bite into or chop up the leaves of cruciferous plants the glucosinolates get converted to other spicy or bitter chemicals!  You’ve released enzymes in the plant cell that allowed this reaction to happen.

2 arugula leaves on left, 2 mustard leaves on right

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Oregon State University

Garden Foraging

In early spring, it can be difficult to find much to eat in the garden. However, often plants have more edible parts than we realize. Some plants, like kale, collards, bok choy, turnips, and Brussels sprouts are biennials, meaning they don’t produce flowers and seeds until their second year of life. This can be advantageous for the gardener who leaves these plants in the garden to overwinter, as they will be rewarded with new leaves in the spring, accompanied by tender flower stalks with a fresh, sweet flavor.

A simple dish can be made with an assortment of leaves and flower stalks from these plants, which when harvested early in the season, will remain tasty. However, with time and increasing temperatures, leaves will turn more bitter and flower stalks may get tougher.

Fresh, tender leaves and flower stalks can be steamed and prepared in any way you like. For an Asian influence, the addition of toasted sesame oil with some salt and garlic makes a simple, tasty side dish. Below, I also added some frozen vegetable dumplings. Store-bought, yes, but still yummy!

It’s amazing how limited our diets can be, given the wide variety of edible plants and plant parts. For instance, even the leaves of Brussels sprouts are edible and like a more tender version of collards. Who knew?

Kale leaves and flowering stalks, Brussels Sprout flowering stalks
Chopped and placed in steamer basket
Toasted sesame oil greens, served with vegetable dumplings

Snake Gourd Curry

In today’s share there will be an option to try snake gourd, which tastes kind of like green bean and squash.  Here’s an idea for a recipe to cook it, which we like!  This recipe is based off this Vahchef recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 snake gourds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • chili powder to taste
  • 1 T ghee (or oil of choice)
  • salt to taste
  • yogurt (we used a non-dairy coconut-based yogurt)

Cut snake gourd into roughly 1/2” or smaller round slices.  Heat pan with ghee and add mustard and cumin seeds once pan is hot.  Saute seeds for about a minute and then add turmeric, chili powder, and salt.  Stir to mix and then add snake gourd.  Cook about 15-20 minutes on medium heat or until tender.  Turn off heat then add yogurt and mix.  Ready to eat!

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They can grow over 5 feet long!

 

 

What’s New in the Garden?

This week was the first week for slicing tomatoes and there are many more ripening on the vine.  Eggplant and bottle gourd started coming in last week and ground cherries are producing more heavily now.  We’ve also been growing some other unique “Indian veggies” that are commonly found in Indian cooking.

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Thai Bottle Gourd

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Eggplant

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Bitter Melon

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Snake Bean or Snake Gourd.  This plant smells like peanut butter!

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Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Snake Bean Flower

 

Today’s Share and Why Cucumbers are Good for You

Cucumbers are a great hydrating fruit (almost 95% water) that contains Vitamin K, antioxidants, and minerals.  Some research suggests they may also have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.  They can also be used topically to improve skin condition.

Source: Journal of Aging Research & Clinical Practice

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Cukes climbing.

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Sadie staying hydrated munching cukes in the shade!

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Toad chillin’ in the squash.

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Swallowtail caterpillar enjoying fennel.

  • Satina potato
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Oregano
  • Green Bean
  • 2 Choice