How to Eat Ethically When You’re Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Photo by N I F T Y A R T ✍🏻 on Unsplash

My mother put me on my first diet when I was twelve.

I still remember the way she traced a circle in the palm of her hand to show our babysitter how big three ounces of meat was, to monitor our serving sizes. I also remember choking down raw broccoli and bell peppers — two foods I cannot eat raw without feeling ill, twenty years later. 

I became a vegetarian in 2002 when I was in eighth grade, for the animals. Around age 17, I became vegan entirely, but added eggs and dairy back into my diet quickly because it was nearly impossible to stay vegan in an omnivorous home. I remained steadfastly vegetarian through college.

Since then, I’ve been on-again-off-again with animal products, but I chose more ethical products from local farms and sustainable sources. 

I was always struggling to find a diet that felt okay ethically, while also balancing the desire to lose weight. Was it meat? Was it veganism? Was it raw veggies? Was it paleo? Was it keto? Was it intermittent fasting?

I aspired to be vegan because it felt like the most ethical, cleanest way to eat. But even a plant-based diet isn’t without cruelty and harm. 

When Your Quest for the Perfect Diet is Killing You 

After realizing in huge, blaring, neon letters in my mind last February that I had a full blown eating disorder, I stopped dieting altogether. I stopped counting calories, started eating tortillas at Chipotle again, and even ate refined sugar without hating myself.

I let all the rules about food fall away, leaving only the need to eat when I was hungry and trusting myself to do so. 

In this period of recovery, I had to let my aspirational veganism go. First, because eating eggs was a way I could actually eat something consistently without needing to fight with my mental health. Second, because a plant-based diet was something I was doing to change my body, rather than fuel it, and I needed a break from a weight loss mentality while recovering. And lastly, because literally nothing is perfect or without harm – not even a vegan diet.

The truth is, I needed to take care of myself. The weight of researching everything, measuring the validity of a food choice against its impact on animal welfare, human labor, carbon emissions, and everything else that goes into making a choice, was too heavy. My mental health suffered as I agonized over the morality of everything I ate. 

We Aren’t Winning Points 

Have you seen The Good Place? Spoilers ahead!

In The Good Place, when people on Earth die, they get sent to The Good Place or The Bad Place based on point totals of their actions during their lives. But as society developed, it became impossible to get into The Good Place even if you lived a perfect life, because every single action is more complex than it appears. 

Each tomato at the grocery store carries an invisible price tag of ethical costs. The pesticides degraded biodiversity in local insect life, the crops were harvested with prison labor or other exploitative practices, the seeds were patented and those patents were used to sue small local farmers when the wind deposited an errant seed on their land. 

Or, to quote Chidi Anagonye four times:

  • “Oh no! I used almond milk in my coffee, even though I knew about the negative environmental impact.” 
  • “I read an article saying that growing almonds was bad for the environment, and yet I continued to use almond milk in my coffee.” 
  • “Well, if it is Hell, I know why I’m here. Almond milk. I drank so much of it despite the negative environmental impacts.”
  • “So, we’re in the Bad Place, and I know why. Almond milk. I knew it was bad for the environment, but I loved the way it coated my tongue in a weird film.”

We cannot eat perfectly ethically in a society that prioritizes profit over people, over animal welfare, and over environmental sustainability. Corporate responsibility is so much bigger than individual action can hope to overcome. 

What does this have to do with my eating disorder? I was focused so much on eating only clean, healthy, safe foods that I would starve myself rather than eat something that wasn’t organic, wasn’t gluten-free, wasn’t sugar-free, etc. If it didn’t satisfy the rules of the clean eating deities of the day, it wasn’t okay to eat. 

Hungry after 8pm? Go to bed hungry, the rules say you can’t eat. Refined grains only once a day. Eat fruit on an empty stomach. Make everything out of cauliflower. 

I also continued my trauma around being forced to eat “healthy snacks” (usually raw vegetables I did not enjoy) as a child. I would pack carrots in my lunch and tell myself all day, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat the carrots, you’re not hungry.” I hate raw carrots. I starved myself thinking it was good for me. 

I could only eat perfect, healthy food. Learning something new about each food became dangerous. And so my list of foods it wasn’t okay to eat grew and grew, leaving me with precious little I could eat to sustain myself. 

Only sprouted grain bread. Only organic potatoes. Only grass-fed beef. Only half an apple. Only what fits in these containers. 

But we don’t have running point totals guiding the morality of our choices — dietary or otherwise. We can only do the best we can with the resources, information, and ability available to us. 

I still care about the ethics of my food choices. But I have to eat. I have to nourish myself. I have to let some of the rules relax. 

Rather than only eating certain things, what if our only job was to do our best and listen to what our bodies need? 

Being Okay with Imperfection

I eat cage-free eggs, and I eat fish. I am otherwise plant-based in my diet. I limit consumption of foods with a high human cost, such as quinoa (once an affordable staple in South America, now exorbitantly expensive and used as an export for our White American Vegan needs). I buy fair-trade coffee and chocolate. I should get back into the habit of buying the Dirty Dozen organic, but I don’t always. I try to buy whole, fresh foods without packaging, but I have fibromyalgia and sometimes my ability and energy level means I need to buy a bag of pre-chopped fresh or frozen veggies. 

And the imperfection is okay.

I cannot be perfect. But I can feed myself.

How to Eat Ethically When You’re Recovering from an Eating Disorder

Your first priority in eating while recovering from an eating disorder is to feed yourself and work on the mental health aspects of your recovery. But as you get further into recovery you may want to start investigating more sustainable and ethical food choices. However, if you find yourself feeling triggered or backsliding into disordered eating, please take a break and focus again on just feeding yourself and taking care of you. 

If it is not triggering to place limits on food in your recovery, you can start to do research into the sustainability and ethics of your food. 

Certifications and labels can help you check at a glance if a product meets certain standards. But sometimes labels can say things that sound nice but don’t actually have any standards attached. This can be hard to navigate as you start exploring more ethical food, so this list should break down what to look for as a next step on more ethical eating. 

Though certifications and labels may not be perfect, they do help us to vote with our dollars and show brands that people are willing to purchase products that prioritize more ethical and sustainable methods. The more people can purchase with ethics in mind, the more the market will shift to provide more options that meet those demands. 

  • Certified Organic: USDA Organic certification means that produce was grown without synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, sewage sludge, and irradiation. Organic also clarifies that the product contains no Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Organic animal products come from animals that meet welfare standards including outdoor access, no antibiotics or growth hormone treatments, and were fed an organic diet. Packaged organic products are made with at least 95% certified organic source ingredients. Note: Organic crops are still treated with pesticides, but they must be approved for organic use — always wash those fruits and veggies. Learn more about the USDA Organic label at the USDA website. You don’t have to buy everything organic — check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list to learn which fruits and veggies are best purchased organic due to high pesticide levels. 
  • Rainforest Alliance Certified: Rainforest Alliance certifies farms that meet certain criteria, including environmental sustainability standards (climate-smart agriculture, deforestation, conserving biodiversity), working conditions standards (human rights, shared responsibility, living wage, gender equality), and more. You can check out all their standards at the Rainforest Alliance website
  • Fair Trade: A fair trade certification can be found on food, clothing, and other items that tend to have exploitative labor practices in their conventional production. A fair trade label protects against child labor, slavery, discrimination, union-busting, and environmental pollution – among so many other standards. This is a great label to start with if you want to move toward more ethical consumption. Coffee and chocolate are two major crops that benefit from a shift toward fair trade purchases. (Aldi is a great low-cost option for both of these!) Learn more from Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade International, two organizations working toward more sustainable agriculture that prioritizes human rights. 
  • Certified Humane: Certified Humane is a nonprofit seeking to improve the lives of animals used in agriculture, and the organization is endorsed by 70 humane associations including the ASPCA. Like all things, they’re not perfect, but they make an effort. You can look up their standards for all animals on their website and decide for yourself if they meet the standards you have for your animal products. 
  • Cage Free: There are actually a lot of “cage free” standards depending on the certifying organization, and they are also (unsurprisingly) not perfect. But they do require chickens to be kept in better conditions than overcrowded factory farms. Check out this article from the Humane Society of the US on different cage free, free range, and other labels you might see. 

You can also shop more locally from farmer’s markets, local farms, and people who keep backyard hens for eggs — this way you can directly ask the source of your food what sort of practices they put into their produce and animal products. 

Access to Food is a Privilege

It is crucial to acknowledge the privilege in access to higher quality, organic, and local foods. Many people across the globe, including those of us in the United States, simply don’t have access to affordable food that meets every checkbox. 

It may be nutritionally ideal to eat fresh, organic, local produce that’s in season — but not everyone can. Whether due to budget, access to the stores and markets that provide these foods, the time it takes to shop and prepare meals while balancing work, life, and family responsibilities, etc. 

No diet is perfect or without consequence, from environmental effects to animal welfare to human exploitation. So please, do the best you can, and know that it is good enough. 

And for those people who would judge others for the food they can access and the time and energy they can put into researching foods (and I have been that judgmental person)… know that everyone is doing their best, and spend your energy donating to causes that help address food insecurity and advocating for better animal welfare and human rights in our agricultural systems. 

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Shopping Consciously as a Minimalist

ali-yahya-S8r7iuyjGV4-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

While minimalism is already widely accepted as an eco-friendly way of living, there are still ways you can continue to do your part if you’ve adopted a “less is more” lifestyle. Shopping consciously is one of the easiest and most effective ways to embrace minimalism, while also putting our planet first. As you embrace the minimalist way of life, here are just a few ways you can shop more consciously along the way.

Take Inventory

Before you set out on any sort of shopping excursion, it’s always important to create a home inventory. By definition, minimalists seek to live with the items they need, as opposed to what they might want. This means you should strive to not have a significant amount of duplicate items in your household. While stocking up on canned goods or owning several sets of sneakers might not feel like a big deal in the beginning, buying excess quantities of items you already own can create more waste in the long run due to forgetting what you already have, food expiring before you can eat it, etc. Taking the time to write down a clear and concise inventory of the things you already have is a sure fire way to keep you from buying items you don’t need. 

It’s important to note, though, that not everyone can afford to replace things if they don’t have duplicates. Don’t feel pressured to pare down to the barest of minimums, and it’s ok to keep a backup of something stored in case of emergencies. Instead of focusing on a numerical limit, consider your space the limit. Only keep as many of something you can reasonably fit on the shelf, in the bin, or in your dresser.

Practice Mindful Grocery Shopping

A great way to keep yourself conscious as you shop is by being as mindful as possible as you purchase your groceries. Whether you like to buy your ingredients on a weekly or biweekly basis, be sure to have a plan of action when you enter the store. Having a list helps keep you on track and inspires less shopping spontaneity. Don’t shop on an empty stomach as this can cause you to purchase more than you need.

Consider changing up your diet slightly by adapting to a more environmentally friendly way of eating. Try your hand at practicing recipes that incorporate little to no meat, as the meat market’s carbon footprint is a steadily growing problem. Planning out your meals well in advance will keep you from making unnecessary purchases and it will keep your pantry more organized over time. 

Shopping at local farmers’ markets can also help reduce the carbon footprint of importing food from far away and helps boost the local economy and support small business.

Donate As Much As You Buy

This is essentially the “one in, one out” rule.

Try to make a mental note to donate items from your home just as often as you add new items. If you’re debating buying a new chair or sofa for your living room, first assess which current piece of furniture you know you could do without, unless you are shopping for a space that needs a change in functionality to seat more people or add a guest bed, etc. 

This goes for your clothing as well. For each new item you add to your wardrobe, choose one to get rid of, if your closet is already at capacity. Smaller possessions such as clothes are easy to accidentally stock up on if you aren’t careful to clean out their hiding places regularly. The next time you feel yourself in need of some wardrobe retail therapy, look online for a closet clean out option to help you keep your closet from becoming overwhelming. Donating will help ensure that all of your shopping is a circular process, helping you maintain a minimal life the eco-friendly way. 

Invest in Reusable Products

If you are able to invest in reusable products, it can reduce your overall home inventory as well as your waste. The best place to start when looking to buy more reusable items is with the things you find yourself using and needing most on a day to day basis. From zip lock bags to plastic water bottles, we tend to create the majority of our waste in the kitchen.

If you haven’t already, try reducing your plastic waste by buying a quality reusable water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the day. Instead of having to continually purchase zip lock bags for your leftovers, look for alternative ways to keep them fresh, like with beeswax wrap. Take the time to consider washable, reusable alternatives the next time you’re hoping to shop more consciously. 

Checking Your Minimalist Privilege

It is extremely important to note that not everyone has the financial means or the ability to follow these recommendations. Sometimes you have to buy in bulk to save your pennies, and the one-in-one-out rule does not apply when you are starting from a point of having less than you truly need in the first place.

Minimalism is a way of life to prioritize the important things over living to excess — and that is whatever you make it.

Cut back on waste by using the whole buffalo

Yesterday was Earth Day. I missed getting this post done in time for it but it’s a great Earth Day concept I share with you today – the concept of reducing waste. I firmly approve of the notion that the native American Indians “used the whole buffalo” when they hunted. A buffalo provided many useful things, including:

  • Meat: for food
  • Bones: for ceremonial uses, weapons, tools
  • Hooves: for glue, rattles
  • Hair: for ornamental use, ropes
  • Hide: for clothing, shelter, blankets, bags (could be tanned into tough leather or left soft)
  • Organs: for food, brain used for tanning leather
  • Sinew: for thread
  • Tail: for whips, ceremonial uses
  • Poop: for fueling fires

While I am not hunting buffalo, I do try to use a similar mentality in my life as a minimalist to reduce my impact on the environment and to reduce the amount of things I need in my home. I hate waste. Throwing away food that has gone bad upsets me – especially if it’s meat or dairy, because those items impacted the life of another living creature. Sorry plants, I get sad when you go off too, but you can’t look at me with sad eyes. Except the potatoes. Sorry about the eyes.

Anyway. Here are some ways I reduce waste in my home:

  • Buy in re-usable containers. I buy some brands over others because they are packaged in glass wide-mouthed jars. I re-use the heck out of glass jars!
  • Avoid plastic wrap. I hate things in plastic wrap. I hate using “biodegradable plastic” produce bags, because I’m just not sure if they’re lying to me. The only thing worse than plastic wrap over a container of produce (looking at you, mushrooms) is plastic wrap over a styrofoam container of produce. Styrofoam. Humbug!
  • Re-use food items. Leftover mashed potatoes become potato pancakes. Bones from making broth are re-used two or three times. One whole chicken can make several days’ worth of meals. Food scraps are put in the compost pile.
  • Garden. Growing food in a garden means you don’t have to drive to the store to buy produce packaged in containers!

Just for fun, and because people love recipes, here’s how I “Whole Buffalo” a chicken.

“Whole Buffalo” Chicken Recipe:

  1. Obtain a whole chicken.
  2. Remove giblets.
  3. Rinse chicken.
  4. Put chicken in crockpot.
  5. Add spices – salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, rosemary, whatever you want.
  6. Cook on low, 8 hours.

Congratulations, you now have a cooked chicken!

Make some meals with it! Like:

  • Chicken quesadillas
  • Chicken salad
  • Chicken breast with pasta or quinoa salad
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken soup
  • White chicken chili
  • Buffalo chicken dip (hey, THE WHOLE BUFFALO!)

BUT WAIT. Keep those bones and the broth from the crockpot. Put the bones in with the juices from cooking the chicken. Fill the crockpot up with filtered water. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and some pink salt. You can add herbs or veggies if you like. Cook it on low for 8-48 hours, adding water as it cooks off.

This is bone broth. It’s awesome. Cook it for a shorter length of time (~8-12 hours) to achieve a gelatin-rich broth (it will look like chicken jello when it’s cooled. Don’t be grossed out. It’s magical). Cook for a longer length of time (~24-48 hours) to achieve a collagen-rich broth. You can preserve broth by canning or freezing. My goal this summer is to learn how to can and preserve.

If you cook for a shorter length of time, you can re-use the bones once or twice, they are good to use again until they crumble when you pinch them. Those are pretty tapped out. You can throw them out, OR… grind the cooked bones up into bone meal and feed them to your pets! The added calcium helps them with their teeth and bones. However, you should not feed cats any bones that have been cooked with garlic or onions, as these vegetables are toxic to cats.

And that’s how I buffalo a chicken.

What do you buffalo?

Ditch it: Tampons

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m going to say “vagina” a lot in this post.  Also “cervix” and “menstrual cycle” and “period.”  Prepare yourselves!

In a natural healing group on Facebook, the question was posed: What’s a crunchy thing you do that gets the strongest reaction from people?  I thought about a lot of things… I barely go to the doctor, I don’t wear a bra, I don’t shave my legs, I don’t use shampoo… AHA! I’ve got it!

I don’t use tampons.  Or disposable maxi pads.

tumblr_m5y7apLjOC1rqfhi2o1_250Tampons and pads…

  • are expensive (~$3,000 over your lifetime, more if you buy organic)
  • are bad for the environment (lots of waste and lots of pollution from manufacturing)
  • are produced with harsh chemicals
  • can cause yeast/bacterial infections
  • (tampons) deplete the vagina’s natural fluids and bacteria
  • (tampons) can contain mold (link)

Overall, disposable menstrual products are a drag.  In my experience, tampons are uncomfortable and make everything dry.  Pads feel like you’re wearing a diaper, and sometimes they flip around and you’ve got adhesive and plastic sticking to places you’d rather it not be sticking.  Plus, the ones that are more plastic just make you all sweaty and gross.

What can you use instead?

I personally use a menstrual cup (Lunette) and washable organic cotton pads (Party In My Pants).

I use these for many reasons…

  • Less waste (one cup will last years, and when you’re ready to discard you can simply burn it without producing any harmful chemicals or gases; pads are made from biodegradable cloth)
  • Better periods (sounds crazy but it’s true; I don’t get menstrual cramps anymore since switching, and my periods are over quicker)
  • Less money (after an initial investment, I have no monthly costs associated with my period – I’m paid up for at least FIVE YEARS)
  • Safer (no drying out of the vaginal fluids, no chemicals in sensitive areas, no stupid fragrances)
  • Easier (I really believe this is easier than fussing with packaging, wrapping, discreetly tossing, etc.)
  • Less space (cup in the medicine cabinet, five pads in my underwear drawer, TA DAAAAAAAAA)

WTF is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a silicone cup that you insert into the vagina, which catches the blood.  You can wear it for extended periods of time, I usually change mine twice per day on average days and maybe three on heavy days.  No risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome from leaving it in for 12 hours (a risk from tampons).  There are a variety of ways you can fold and insert, and there are YouTube videos and diagrams all over the internet about it.  To remove, simply pinch the bottom, pull it out, dump, rinse (or wipe with tissue if in a public restroom), and reinsert.  One of the biggest complaints I see about people who don’t want to try this is that they wouldn’t be able to change it in a public restroom.  I swear, you can change it in the morning and when you’re home in the evening and never need to worry about it in the middle of the day (unless you have a very heavy flow, in which case you can wipe with a tissue until you can get to rinse it again).

It’s not as gross as it sounds, I swear.

People also worry that it would be a crazy mess to deal with.  Not true.  There’s a learning curve and your first couple cycles might be a little messy while you figure out your particular groove for insertion and removal, but once you’ve got it, you’ll never look back.  I have never had a nasty spill while changing it, ever.

(Update, 2019: One SINGLE time I dropped it in a toilet. I threw it away and got a new one because it was ill fitting anyway — still less waste than tampons).

One thing I need to warn you about is that your cervix (the little opening at the bottom of your uterus that opens up when you have a baby, and through which your menstrual blood travels) MOVES AROUND. A LOT.  So you’ll need to get familiar with your anatomy to make sure the cup is positioned correctly in relation to the cervix.  It does no good to put the cup up high when the cervix is being sneaky down low.  There is a whole world to discover in there.

Reusable pads?

Yup, reusable pads.  I own five organic cotton liners from Party in my Pants.

The things I hear about when people are questioning washable pads is usually around the gross-factor of throwing something with blood on it into the laundry.  Do you wash them in a special load? No. Do you pre-soak them? You can, but I don’t.  Are they smelly? No. I promise.

The way I look at it is: If you get blood on your underwear, do you throw them away or do you wash them? Wash ’em.  I seriously throw my pads in with the rest of the laundry and that’s the end of it.  Granted, I don’t usually have a lot going on with them since they are just there as a backup for the cup, but even if I had a heavy flow on the pads I would just wash them with everything else.  They even fold up for easy carrying!  You could do an initial soak with vinegar water to pre-wash them but it’s not necessary.  You can learn more on the PIMP page linked above!

Any questions?

I am by no means an expert on reusable menstrual gear but I would be happy to answer your questions or help you find the answers you seek!

Fuzzy Legs

I started shaving my legs when I was nine.  Mom did it, and I wanted to do it, because it’s something girls do.  So I began shaving.  Poorly.  At one point, my dad had to continue my education on how to shave my legs (I am pretty sure I was running the plastic edge of the razor over my legs and wondering why the hair was still there).  In sixth grade, I pressed so hard with my razor that I tore off a chunk of skin on my knee.  Constant nicks and cuts were painful and annoying.

Shaving is hard work.

Eventually, I got the hang of it and then had to deal with the necessity of buying razors and shaving cream.  Even then, I didn’t really shave very often, once a week tops.  I shaved when I wore skirts and shorts.  I did not shave in the winter (because pants, and warmth!)

My ex-husband was grossed out by it, but the way I saw it, they were my legs and not his and why should I decorate myself for anyone else’s benefit if I didn’t like doing it? I’ve had an ex-boyfriend (and even an ex-girlfriend) who didn’t mind when I had fuzzy legs.  My cat doesn’t mind.  I don’t mind.

My sister calls them my “hairy man legs.”  And so do I, sometimes, but I am trying to get away from that… because they aren’t hairy man legs.  They’re hairy woman legs.  Hair is not an inherently masculine bodily feature, and we shouldn’t make it that way.  Having body hair does not make me less of a woman.

The horror! Human legs with hair on them!

The horror! Human legs with hair on them!

I still feel (mentally) uncomfortable sometimes, because the expectation in society is that women should be soft, hairless, touchable creatures.  There is an immense pressure on women to have a perfect body, and the images streamed into our brains tell us that perfect is slim and smooth (with large, perky breasts).  I reject that notion of perfect for the idea that maybe, just maybe, our bodies are inherently perfect and we don’t need to spend the majority of our lives changing them to make them perfect.  Humans are mammals.  Mammals have hair.  The only reason we feel compelled to shave our bodies is because someone told us it looked prettier that way.

This is not an indictment of shaving.  If you want to shave your legs because you like how it feels or looks, then by all means shave! Sometimes I, too, enjoy the feeling of silky hairless skin on clean sheets in the summer time.  I also appreciate the razor because it gives me the gift of well groomed facial hair on men.

downey

LOOK AT IT.

I don’t think we should all just throw away our razors, though I do think we should all reconsider the reusable razor with changeable metal blades instead of those plastic monstrosities.  But I do think we should really think about why we shave.  If I remove my body hair, it’s because I want to.  I don’t do it for anyone else.  Plus, now I don’t have to buy razors and shaving cream!

 

legs

Let’s also just take a moment to think about how ridiculous commercials for razors and shaving cream are.  Women shaving already-smooth legs?  As read on  Dear Blank, Please Blank, “if you want to impress us, shave a gorilla.”

Who, me?  (I took this photo!)

Who, me? (I took this photo!)

Do you shave?

What’s in a label?

I’m not talking about food labels.  I’m talking about people labels.  Life’s little hashtags that allow people to put us into boxes in their organized waffle-brains.  I’m going to discuss a few areas of life in which those of us out of the mainstream are viewed as weird, strange, or abnormal.

Food habits:

I am vegan once I leave the house.  At home, I eat local pasture-raised eggs, zero dairy, and zero meat.  I am vaguely considering adding the occasional meat product, but only ethically-raised meat.  I avoid GMOs and buy organic groceries.  I’m preparing to cut gluten from my diet after realizing that when I eat it, it makes me hurt.  I am learning to listen to my body.

Raise your hands if you just thought something like “That sounds like a bunch of froo-froo hippie crap” or similar. Veganism is not the norm. It’s more common than in years prior, but it still gets questions.  On top of that, try adding a gluten-free diet!  People just freak out. “What are you going to eat?!” “Uh, vegetables. Try them, they are good for you, and they don’t come in a box.”

Before I go to a restaurant, I have to look up the menu online and see if anything is vegan.  I also try to avoid soy and corn because of GMOs.  Now that I’m going gluten free, eating out will be nearly impossible.  Hooray, challenges!  They make us stronger, right? Right?  Whatever, I’m going to Chipotle (and ignoring the soybean oil because even I have to have a line somewhere.  I have also been known to demolish corn chips at Mexican restaurants.  I’m not perfect, okay?).

Here’s an example of how my ordering usually goes:

Hi, sorry, mine’s going to be annoying, I’m a craaazy vegan!  I’ll have the spaghetti (listed in the menu as spaghetti and meatballs, with cheese), without any meatballs or cheese – just noodles and sauce.  And the garlic toast, and do you know if any of the salad dressings are vegan?  Okay, no salad, I just won’t worry about it.

Another recent dining experience:

Prior to ordering, I was lamenting the fact that this restaurant had a vegan burger but not a vegan bun.  That just seemed stupid to me.  I wondered aloud if I could just get the burger without the bun.  My dining partner said, “Or you could just deal with it this once.”

The pressure to just stop being a crazy psycho vegan hippie was enough to make me just eat the damn bun.  I got sick, but I lack evidence to say it was really the bun. It might have been the greasy fries.  Sorry, body.

When I introduce myself in situations as a “dirty hippie,” or a “crazy vegan,” or a “crunchy granola freak,” even in jest or to break the mood, I am putting forward a bad image of myself.  Dirty. Crazy. Freak. These are all negative words.

If I don’t eat meat, eggs, or milk at a restaurant, I can ask for the vegan options without making a joke at my own expense to make the server feel better about having to serve me.  I am 100% sure there are pickier customers out there.  When it comes down to it, I’m pretty easy.  Now that gluten is on my chopping block, things will get more complicated (and may result in fewer restaurant outings, sorry friends).

Now if only I can get Chipotle to stop dropping other people’s cheese in the guacamole.  Seriously.  Join me on this brief diversion from my point:

chipotle correct

Correct placement of burrito when placing cheese on top. Directly in front of the cheese container.

chipotle incorrect

Sometimes they move the burrito in front of the guacamole, and then put the cheese on. This results in cheese falling into the guacamole, which makes me a very sassy lactose-intolerant vegan. (All acceptable labels).

Back to my point:

Those of us with dietary restrictions, whether self-imposed or medically necessary, should own them.  Ask your questions and order your meal the way you want it without apology.

Some tips:

  1. Print a list of your dietary restrictions for the chef to read, including cross-contamination concerns (i.e., if you order rice pasta, make a note not to boil it in the wheat pasta water)
  2. Do your homework before you go out.  There are a lot of gluten-free and vegan dining websites that can help you find a diet-restriction-friendly restaurant.  Check out restaurant websites for the online menu and allergen information
  3. Dine with patient, supportive people.  Someone telling you to just deal with it and eat the bun is not going to help the situation.  It is stressful to handle dietary restrictions in your own kitchen, let alone in a restaurant.  Sure, a vegan can compromise on a dubious bun, but if someone had an allergy, they wouldn’t have that freedom.
  4. If you have food allergies, bring your medication/epi-pen just in case.

Personal care

I don’t use commercial shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, or toothpaste.  I smell and look like a normal human!  (I may still be figuring out the deodorant, to be perfectly honest; experiment #1 did not go smoothly… literally).

Consider the following explanations:

  1.  I don’t use shampoo, because I’m a dirty hippie freak.
  2. I don’t use shampoo, because shampoos contain a lot of questionable chemical ingredients and I don’t want them in my body.

I have used both of these explanations.  One of them is detrimental to my cause.  If I want others to consider the implications of slathering themselves with chemical ingredients, I need to frame my explanations with an educational and health-conscious perspective.  I can’t just say, “I’m a dirty hippie,” because (a) I am not dirty and (b) unless YOU want to identify as a dirty hippie (which I am sure you don’t), you won’t even listen to my explanation of why (insert commercial product here) is bad for you.  It’s all about presentation.

Medicine

I think medication is seriously over-prescribed.  I focus on natural healing and nutrition over medication, and I feel much better for it.  I have not gotten sick all winter, and I haven’t had any medications in months and months.  I’m happy with it, and I’m happy to talk to people about it.

Shopping

The minimalist in me doesn’t shop much anyway, and the environmentalist in me wants to shop used.  I do confess that I bought a blender on Amazon for $60 because I couldn’t find a used one that met my criteria.  I’m a really picky eco-minimalist I guess.  My Christmas list included “cloth napkins, from Goodwill is fine” so I really don’t require “new” to be satisfied.  This goes against the grain of so many people’s inclinations that it stands out and gets questions.  Instead of  the tried-and-untrue “Oh, I’m a tree-hugger and MALLS ARE EVIL,” next time I’ll try a little “It’s better for my bank account and the environment to try and buy things used first!”  It might get some better feedback.

Be proud!

If you differ from the mainstream in any way, celebrate it.  Don’t apologize for it.

Be awesome, like this mom whose photo showed up in my Facebook feed:

Not_Me

I walk the line

The average American will throw away 600 times their own body weight in waste over their lifetime.

As I’ve written before, environmentalism and minimalism can easily go hand in hand, especially if you take a minsumerist view instead of the typical consumerist way of life in this country.  However, I have noticed that everyone has their line.  Some people will be eco-friendly up to a point, because convenience is worth it to them on some things.  Many people don’t know about the environmental impact their actions (and purchases) have on the environment.  Some don’t even realize the economic impact on their personal finances. How much MONEY will you save by switching to something reusable if you don’t have to buy a new one every so often?

Take disposables for example.

In my daily life, I’ve been noticing the disposable items around my home and workplace.  It seems that everything is made of plastic and paper (and Styrofoam, eek!).  There’s all this plastic stuff we just throw away and stop thinking about because it’s gone from our lives, never considering that it can take over a thousand years to degrade in a landfill.  Also, note that plastic is not biodegradable, but it will degrade into toxic chemicals that can pollute our groundwater and air.

The more I learn about plastics and the impact of disposable items in my life, the less I depend on them.  Thinking about my leftovers that I packed in a plastic container has me worried about chemicals leaching into my food.  Next time I’ll remember to pack in Pyrex.

I’ve been doing some research on the commonly-tossed things in my life, and here are some small substitutions that I or anyone else can make to save something going into the garbage to spend a long long time in a landfill.

Kitchen scraps: It has been estimated that Americans throw away 12-40% of the food they buy.  Oh my goodness.  First off, reduce the amount you buy in the first place by planning meals and buying items with a long shelf life. Also reduce your dependence on imports by growing your own produce or buying locally with the seasons.  Reuse leftovers, either as the same meal or turn them into something else — freeze bread to make stuffing or bread crumbs when you need them, make leftover mashed potatoes into pierogies or potato pancakes, etc.  And “recycle” most of your food scraps by composting, either in a vermicompost bin with worms or an outdoor compost pile.

Beverage and food containers: Bottled drinks are a gross waste of your money, and you would immediately save some green by going green and brewing your own iced tea or putting your tap water into a reusable water bottle or travel cup. Reduce your purchasing of prepackaged drinks and to-go items in disposable packaging. Reuse glass jars and bottles for other purposes (paint them to make a simple vase, for example, or use wide-mouth jars to store dry goods in the kitchen). Recycle what you cannot reuse.

Bath and beauty products: Shampoo, conditioner, hair products, lotion, body wash… full of chemicals in a disposable plastic package.  Reduce your purchase of these items by making your own (and keeping in them in those handy repurposed glass jars we talked about) or by buying natural products made without the chemicals. Reuse bottles if possible.  Recycle as you use them up.  It only takes a minute to rinse them out for the recycle bin.

Dental hygiene products: Did you know there are biodegradable toothbrushes? Yeah, me either. There are also sticks you can chew on that apparently clean your teeth.  I’m still using an evil plastic toothbrush but when I replace it (soon, it’s getting to be that time), I will look into natural and biodegradable alternatives instead of sticking plastic and more plastic in my mouth and into the Earth when I am done.  There is also vegan floss in a paperboard container, which you can compost or recycle.  I currently use the little plastic floss-picks, which are very convenient, but I care enough about the planet to learn how to floss properly again.
Update: Though plastic, this toothbrush comes with a prepaid mailer for recycling and is made from recycled yogurt cups. .

Feminine hygiene products: Here is where the line is for many people.  Tampons and pads are bad for your body (chemicals, plastics, bleaching, GM cotton) and bad for the environment (so much waste in packaging and in disposal), but thinking about reusable menstrual gear makes a lot of people run for the nearest convenience store to stock up on disposables, just in case a revolution takes place.  If it’s not too far across your line (or maybe your line is further away, in which case, I offer you this Internet high five: *high five!*), I encourage you to consider a silicone menstrual cup and/or washable cloth pads.  If you’re curious about cloth pads, you can get a free one from Party In My Pants Pads.

Paper goods: Cloth napkins, dish towels instead of paper towels, handkerchiefs instead of tissues.  These are all pretty easy substitutions.  But I’m going to get reeeeeally close to that line again and mention REUSABLE TOILET PAPER.  Over your line? Ew! Within your line: High five.  It’s currently over my line and I use toilet paper made from recycled paper.  If you’re interested in cloth toilet paper, maybe start with just number-one and still use paper for number-two.  That’s how I would personally start if I was going to go down the path of cloth wipes (which I do plan to use for babies, with cloth diapers, so who knows where my line will end up?)

Lots of these reusable and eco-friendly (non-plastic) options get me excited, but some make me want to sing Meatloaf songs to the planet.  I would do anything for love, Earth… but I won’t do that. At this point in time.  I’m an eco-work in progress.

Do you invest in reusable materials? Where is your line?

No ‘poo

I have not used shampoo in a little over a month.

Google “No poo method” and you will find over one million search results teaching you how to clean your hair without using shampoo and conditioner.  The miracle ingredients are two of my favorite things: baking soda and vinegar.

The general recipe is this: one heaping tablespoon of baking soda per cup of water, and one tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water.  I eyeball mine, partly because I don’t have measuring spoons but mostly because I can very easily adjust as needed so I don’t need to bother being super precise.  You can adjust the baking soda or vinegar more or less depending on how your hair and scalp respond.

I use a plastic bottle (I had it lying around in my donate pile and salvaged for this operation) with a pull-top spout to mix the baking soda solution. The small spout makes it easy to get the solution into the roots of my hair.  I use a spray bottle for the vinegar mixture.  I use organic apple cider vinegar, but you can use distilled if that’s all you have.  I encourage the organic stuff though, it has given me better results.

The good: This method is free of nasty chemicals that hide in conventional shampoos and conditioners, which strip your hair and scalp of its natural oils.  You won’t have to wash your hair as often either!

The bad: People will probably think you’re a weird hippie, but it’s okay because your self-esteem is awesome.  It will fade your hair dye, but you don’t want those chemicals on your head anyway, right?

The ugly: There is usually a breaking-in period when switching to this method of haircare.  Because your scalp is used to being stripped of its oils, it may overcompensate for a while and your hair might get greasy pretty fast.  This is usually over within a couple weeks.  I didn’t even have this adjustment period, my hair just got awesome.  Your mileage may vary.

My results: I love it, and I have no plans to go back to shampoo.  I think my hair has better volume than it did when I used shampoo and conditioner, because the shampoo weighed down my hair with buildup, and there is no residue or buildup with this method. My dyed color has lightened, and it appears that my natural color, which I hate because it’s a dirty mousy brown color, actually seems brighter and doesn’t make me as upset when I see my roots — perhaps there is hope for a totally chemical-free head.  I also use the very same baking soda and vinegar solutions to scrub and tone my face in the shower — my acne is nearly gone!

Next project: DIY toothpaste from baking soda and salt.

What DIY bath products do you make at home? 

Green minimalism

Till now man has been up against Nature; from now on he will be up against his own nature.  ~Dennis Gabor, Inventing the Future, 1964

Our culture is one of consumption and wanting and never having enough.

As minimalists, we reduce wholeheartedly, ridding ourselves of the excess in our lives and striving to live simply, without the burdens of needing to need.  We eliminate incoming junk mail, we ask our family and friends not to buy gifts, we turn down freebies at the mall, and we make conscious decisions about what items deserve a space in our lives.

Minimalist does not necessarily mean green, sustainable, or environmentally-conscious, however.

Even with the simplest of living situations, you can run up a mean carbon footprint tab if you eat convenience foods over fresh, travel by plane, commute long distances by car (guilty over here!), throw away recyclables, buy imported items, etc.  It is very easy to live a life that is not conscious of the Earth and our responsibility as its stewards.

Some ways you can green up your minimalist life include:

REDUCE:

  • Reduce your consumption of prepackaged foods and fast food
  • Reduce fuel consumption and emissions and bike or walk around town instead of driving
  • Reduce emissions by traveling via train (the most eco-friendly distance travel) instead of car, bus, or plane (or purchase carbon offsets if you do travel by car, bus, or plane)
  • Reduce fuel and emissions (again!) by buying local produce, dairy, and meat – imported food means more carbon emissions to get it there
  • Reduce electricity consumption by turning off lights, using energy-conserving appliances, etc.
  • Reduce water consumption by taking shorter showers, turning off the water when you brush your teeth, etc.

REUSE:

  • Use a reusable cup to take to your coffee shop (just ask, many places are okay using your cup to make your beverage) — this reduces waste for you and the planet!
  • Use reusable canvas grocery bags
  • Reuse plastic grocery bags as trash bags in your home or as animal waste bags, or use them to wrap up your shoes in a suitcase to keep dirt off the rest of your clothes
  • Use reusable containers instead of disposable bags for snacks and sandwiches when  you pack your lunch

RECYCLE:

  • Recycle whenever possible (paper, plastic, metal, glass)
  • Recycle electronics, batteries, printer ink, and other technological items
  • Recycle (or reuse) plastic grocery bags

Are you a green minimalist?  How do you curb your impact on the planet?

Some thoughts on food

As we minimize the clutter in our spaces and minds, shouldn’t we also minimize the clutter in our food?

I’m pretty much over eating anything I can’t pronounce.

I had heard about these “GMOs” that have had people up in arms in recent months and years, but only recently have I done more digging and come up with the conclusion that I’d like to lead an organic lifestyle.  Genetically modified foods and pesticides on conventional produce terrify me.  It may be more expensive to buy some foods organically but for me personally, the peace of mind that I’m not eating a vegetable with pesticides written into its DNA is worth it.

On that note, apparently 86% of corn in the US is genetically modified (as of 2010. Forgive me for citing Wikipedia).  Yikes! Corn is in so much of the food we eat, and we don’t even think about it.  Canola and soy are also huge GM crops, and they are also in basically everything.  I can’t even imagine having a corn or soy allergy, but more and more people do as GMOs become more prevalent.

I will be instilling some minimalist virtues into my new eating habits.

  1. One in, one out – Technically this one is going to be reversed.  As I finish a non-organic/GMO/non-pronounceable food item in my kitchen, it will be replaced with a whole-food, organic/non-GMO alternative.
  2. No clutter – Buying fresh produce means less packaging, and it also means I can’t stock up on things because they will expire faster when they’re not full of preservatives.  I will only buy what I plan to eat in the next week or so.
  3. Quality over quantity – I will be paying more for a healthy food option over spending the same amount on several unhealthy food items.  Junk doesn’t have a place in my kitchen or my stomach anymore!

I’m already nearly vegan, so this is just one more way to make my friends and family dread entertaining with me!  Sorry, family. I love you very much.

A perk to this new plan of mine is that I’m seriously turned off by junk food.  If I don’t know what’s in it, I am very wary.  I am not perfect, however, and succumbed to the will of a doughnut in a work meeting recently.  For shame.

One issue I foresee is that of eating out at restaurants.  I’m not sure how I will handle that, besides not eating out at all.  Who knows what they put in their food?  I know Chipotle Mexican Grill sources organic and local ingredients when they can but I am not sure about other restaurants.  There’s probably corn and soy products all over the place!   If anyone has a good source for finding restaurants that use local/organic ingredients let me know in the comments.

Do you follow a particular diet?

Also, here’s a great source for more info on GMOs: http://www.nongmoproject.org/