Friday, 5 August 2011

Summer on a plate...

If ever there was a good time to try eating seasonally, summer would have to be it. The choices are endless and delicious at this time of year - strawberries, plums, broad beans, cucumber and courgettes, just to name a few. It has been the perfect month for fresh whole fruit and crispy cool salads.

I found a great site called Eat Seasonably that was really helpful, with a calendar of all the best seasonal fruit and veges for each month of the year.

Over the last month I've been attempting to limit my seasonal fruit and vege purchases to markets, and to organic box deliveries. That way I know they're genuinely seasonal, not all-year round hydroponics that just happen to be selling during that season (even a broken clock is right twice a day). Organic boxes in particular have been a real inspiration. There are some great companies in the UK, including Abel & Cole and Riverford Organics, who source their fruit and veg from a network of local organic farms. They also include helpful tips and recipes to make the most of what's in season at the time.

The advantage of box deliveries is also that you get a set delivery of seasonal produce, rather than picking your own individual items, so you get to try a real range of things that you might not otherwise think to pick. This week among other things I got some fantastic yellow plums, and a candy-like striped beetroot - yum!

For my next mission I'm setting out to meet some real greenies in the hopes of some inspiration rubbing off on me. My mission is to do some green volunteering - to get out there and talk to some real eco-activists and find out what they're all about. Will keep you posted!

On a side note: I've seen two great environmental films in the last few weeks that I wish everyone would watch. 1) The End of the Line, about the effects of over fishing. 2) We Feed the World, a look at the global food industry.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

I heart being vegan!

It's not too often that I try something new and it instantly feels right - but that's how my mission to go vegan felt. Going vegetarian felt good, it was fun and tasty, but going all the way vegan feels so much better!

I can honestly say I didn't expect to love this challenge as much as I have. It sounded like hard work. But the honest truth is, when I focused on what I could eat rather than what I couldn't the options were endless.

I started my challenge by brainstorming a list of all the normal meals I eat that are already vegan. Having converted mostly to vegetarian already it was a pretty good list. Some of my fave weeknight staples include vege packed thai curry, burritos (with my amazing-if-I-do-say-so-myself fresh guacamole), vege and tofu stir-fry, and curried pumpkin soup. I also jotted down a few of my favourite vegan treat meals, so that if I was feeling down about my lack of food choices I had some happy fall backs - veg nachos, take-out gourmet veg burgers, dark chocolate. Then I created a week's meal plan. I didn't follow it, it was just a good way to psych myself up, and write my shopping list. My message here is to be prepared, it definitely made this challenge less daunting!

Over the last two weeks there have been some days that felt difficult (usually when I tried too many new things in one day, and my stomach didn't cooperate!), and some days that felt amazing. Yesterday I counted and I ate 11 different types of fruit and veg in one day. Apparently the average American diet includes only 12-13 different fruit and veges altogether. Just think what deliciousness people are missing out on!
All in all, I feel great mentally and physically. I feel positive about the choice, I feel healthy, my skin is clear, I'm full of energy, and I'm doing something good for the environment. Win-win-win!

After a few weeks of reading up and surfing the net about veganism, I found so many interesting resources and inspiring blogs and websites. If you're thinking about going vegan here are a few sites I loved:
  • There's a lot of nutritional advise out there for vegans, but I thought a safeish bet for sound advise was this UK national health service page.
  • Some nice video reminders about why what we eat matters for the environment on Plate to Planet.
  • And my favourite inspiring vegan women that I discovered this week if you need assurance that being vegan can be fun, cool and sexy. Kris Carr on Crazy Sexy Life, Kim Barnouin on Healthy Bitch Daily (I just got one of her cookbooks too, love it), and this awesome down to earth advise from Ann Esseltyn on the Planeat website.
  • And many many more - thank you to all the online vegans out there flooding the net with helpful info, I appreciate it! You could google the hours away with a simple 'vegan' search.
I'm also just a few pages from finishing Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer which I happened to pick up at the library. It's quite terrifying but definitely worth reading if you're interested in finding out more about meat, dairy and egg production methods.

My next step is going to be signing up for some Spork Online cooking classes, and trying to expand my repertoire. Hopefully if I can cook some amazing meals I might be able to convince some friends and family to ditch the meat too.

Now sticking to the food theme (I do love my food), this week my mission is to explore eating seasonally. It makes complete sense that eating foods that are in season locally means that they require less artificial input to grow and therefore = less environmental impact. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but I guess I'll find out this week!

Friday, 10 June 2011


'Pre-loved' does sound far more romantic than 'second-hand' doesn't it? Or worse yet 'used' goods?
Unsurprisingly given my lack of enthusiasm for it, my mission last week of doing some second-hand shopping was unexciting and not easy.

After unsuccessfully scouting local charity shops for the items I was after, I took my search online. I used eBay and Preloved (a UK site), but they sure don't make it easy to buy items from individuals. I was searching for some larger household items (like a full length mirror), which I would need to pick up - but eBay doesn't allow you to search for local sellers argh... So every listing I opened seemed to be from Nottinghamshire or some other such lovely named far away town. I miss TradeMe! In the end I have managed to put bids on a few items so I will just wait and see. I still think it's important to buy second-hand where possible so I won't be giving up just yet, but I do wish they'd make it easier...

This week I found myself thinking long and hard about what more I can do to go green. Every now and then I come across a piece of information or something that inspires me to want to take my eco-journey further and faster. This week it was for some reason this cute video of wild tiger cubs. I read the article that says there are around 3,200 tigers left in the wild - that's about the population of the high school I went to! Usually when I read something like this I go off on a bit of a research tangent and read a lot of interesting, inspiring articles. Now in a few internet twists and turns this lead me back to thinking about some of the big eco challenges - and the one that stuck with me this week was the production of meat and other animal foods.

Since my original challenge to go vegetarian I haven't eaten any red meat (success!), but I have still been consuming other animal products. I don't drink milk but I do consume some other lower-lactose dairy products, as well as eggs and the occasional piece of fish. I've decided if I really want to step up to the green challenge in a big way I'm going to need to try going vegan - dairy and fishing industries are hugely damaging to the environment. There's is plenty of motivational material online. If you like positive motivation, this is a great video series on having a happy vegan life: Making the Connection. If you need a bit of negative motivation to push you over the edge here is a shocking video narrated by Paul McCartney (warning, this made me cry): Glass Walls.

So this week I've pledged to go 30 days vegan.

I'm actually quite excited about this challenge because I love food, I loved going vegetarian, and I love trying new recipes. I'd love to hear any recipes or ideas that you might have out there??

To kick start on a good note I'm off to make a batch of lentil soup - it's a rainy miserable day (yes London in June feels a lot like winter) so it'll be a nice pick me up!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Plastic, plastic, everywhere

After a few weeks with no internet connection I'm finally back online - so hopefully I can get some semblance of regularity back to my blogging! I am now officially settled in London: new house, new job, and phone and internet connection, yay. Now I can get back to these green missions with my complete attention.

So back to my last mission - to go plastic free...

Rule number 1: Never go food shopping when you're hungry. Now this is a general rule that should be followed at all times, but if you try this while going plastic-free you'll realise that it takes on a whole new level of importance. Why? Because everything that is ready-to-eat comes in plastic. And I mean everything. The one exception to that rule in the supermarket seems to be chocolate blocks in their lovely paper wrapping. Not an ideal healthy snack option, but I did resort to this when I broke rule number 1 on my first shopping outing.

So on the supermarket run what can you buy? I mostly stuck to canned foods (veges, beans, fish etc), things that come in jars (all standard spices, sauces etc), and things in paper packaging (baking essentials, chocolate). I did purchase some fresh produce as well, but here I find that even most fresh fruit and veges come in some plastic. I'm going to start exploring the local markets over the next few weeks to see if I can find some 'naked' alternatives there. So after rule number 1, what else did I learn about going plastic free?

Rule #2. Never buy coffee on the run. Yes, it's possible to get takeaway coffees without a plastic lid, or in your own travel mug... But for myself I've just decided on a general rule that if I want a shop bought coffee I'll drink it at the shop.
Rule #3. Always check that you have a reusable bag with you before you leave the house. I used to always do the 'phone, keys, wallet' check before heading out, but now I've expanded it to 'phone, keys, wallet, foldup bag' check. If you don't take it with you, you are bound to need something last minute and like me - may end up on the bus ride home with a dangerous carton of eggs in your very expensive handbag.
Rule#4. Not so much a rule but a tip - keep an eye out for foods that package themselves: such as bananas, pumpkins, and onions that are simply sold in their own skin.

But mostly over and above everything else I learned on this mission was just how plastic has invaded every part of our lives. Living plastic-free permanently in this society would take constant effort and planning. The couple of times I did slip up on this mission were simply moments of oversight where I didn't even think about the plastic content of an item I was buying. I'm committed to keep trying to limit my plastics as much as possible though - and I'm more impressed than ever by those people who can manage to cut plastic almost completely from their lives (check out My Plastic Free Life).

Now for this week I'm setting myself a challenge that I'm particularly dreading (don't judge me for this one). I confessed right from the beginning that I loved shiny new things - that's a big part of my not-green problem. Now that I'm all moved into my new house, there are a few extra bits and pieces that I need to get fully set up. So to avoid buying more new stuff, my mission this week is to go second-hand shopping.

Now second hand shopping is not something I should dread, but as a lover of new stuff, I find old musty second hand stores a bit scary! I'm the first to admit that it's a bit ridiculous, so I'm out to over-turn my preconceptions about buying 'pre-loved' this week.

If anyone has any good second-hand shopping tips (or knows good stores in London!) then do let me know.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Waste not, want not...

Another week's challenge has flown by. Another challenging challenge too. Last week my mission was to waste no food, but was also complicated by the fact that I was on holiday (in Greece - beautiful!).

Not wasting food was much more difficult than I expected actually. On holiday we were eating out every day so getting our portion sizes right at restaurants was the biggest test. What did work well was sharing meals. I was travelling with two good friends who have reasonably small appetites - at most restaurants we shared meals, and so generally finished what was on our plates. We also managed to get take away containers for leftovers for a few of our meals, saving waste and giving us a free lunch the next day.

The down side of our waste-saving behaviour was that we did get a fair few sideways glances from our Greek hosts (not always the most hospitable), who must have thought we were very cheap travellers...

I've decided to continue my challenge for another week now that I'm back home to see how I can incorporate it into my home life. I made a good start this morning cooking up some past-their-best apples that I might otherwise have had to throw away to puree and freeze for future baking.

The next challenge I'm adding in the mix for this week is to go plastic-free. Basically that means purchasing no new plastic. It sounds reasonably straight forward, but when you start to think of how many of the foods we eat daily or buy from the supermarket are packaged in plastic it will certainly mean quite a change in behaviour.

There are lots of good sites with hints and tips though so I'll have plenty of help. Do you have any good plastic-free living tips for me??

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Carbon offsetting?

This week's blog is a tad late - as I mentioned last week I was moving to London, and arrived bright and early on Tuesday morning. I'm pleased to report that I've now recovered from the 30 hour journey! My mission for last week was to purchase some carbon offsets for my long-haul flight to get here. It sounded like a simple challenge, but once I started researching I found it was far more complicated and confusing than I'd anticipated. I found myself asking a number of questions and here's what I discovered...

Carbon offsetting is basically purchasing a reduction of greenhouse gases in another location to offset your own emmisions. Projects might include: renewable energy, energy efficiency or reforestation. The more I read though the more I found questions about how effective carbon offsets are.

Apparently in the UK less than 30 pence in every pound (30%) spent on some carbon offset schemes goes to projects designed to reduce emissions. The rest goes to the company that takes on the risk of the project, the project's investors, and organisations involved in brokering and auditing the carbon credits. A lot of offsetting also seemed to just be trading paper money through different trading schemes, rather than investing in new tangible projects. In fact I found a number of examples where offset projects might actually be damaging the environment. For some interesting reading check out these articles in The Guardian or BusinessWeek.

All this left me feeling a little under-enthused. What's the point in giving money away to a trading sheme that isn't guaranteed to make a difference, just to make me feel better about indulging in some un-eco friendly travel?

So I've decided instead to put my offsetting money aside and donate it to WWF who I know work on some fantastic climate change projects, and aren't a for-profit company. I'll try not to consider last week's mission a total failure - I guess the lesson for me is that you can't buy being green, you have to earn it yourself!

My next week's mission is inspired by an article I read yesterday in a newspaper I just happened to pick up on the tube. Here are the stats that I read: In the UK households waste 25% of all the food they buy. 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in rich nations come from production of food that is never eaten. Pretty shocking.

So my mission for the week is to waste no food. This could be interesting as I'll be holidaying and therefore eating out most of the week, but after reading those statistics I'm very motivated!

Monday, 25 April 2011

These are a few of my favourite things

Well this week sure has been interesting. My mission was to start the 100 Thing Challenge, so I have spent the week reflecting on what I have, and writing, re-writing, and re-writing again my list of the top 100 things that I want to live with for the next 6 months. So I've narrowed the list down to my favourite items, those that I love or can't live without.

Now I won't bore you with the details of exactly what did make my list (I'll post the list as a comment for anyone curious!), but what I found most interesting was what didn't quite make the cut. After the first version of the list I left it a few days, and coming back to the list again my perspective had changed already about what was most important - enough to take some things off the list and add others on.

Here are a few items that didn't quite make the cut: 1) a second pair of black work heels 2) my wool slippers 3) a third notebook 4) a third scarf 5) a nice sparkly top.

What these near misses lead my to think about was how I made buying decisions about those items in the first place. If I had 2 notebooks (or 2 scarves) already, did I ever need a third? If I have carpet on the floor did I ever need slippers? If I always wear dresses, would I ever really have needed a sparkly top?

I guess these are the kind of questions that I will need to keep asking myself over the next 6 months if I want to keep my list at 100 items or less. Just writing the items down is half the battle, now I have a very clear picture of what I have and what I need. Even if you don't think you could reduce your stuff down to 100 items, I would absolutely encourage anyone to try out the task of writing down all the items that you have in your bedroom,wardrobe, lounge etc. Then maybe you can reduce your items down five at a time over a few months - your local charity stores will love you for it. I'm going to try getting my parents to do this - they sure are hoarders!

Now that I have my list of items, and my suitcase nearly packed, I'll be jetsetting to my new home town of London next week.

So for this week I'm going to start looking at an area that is very near and dear to my heart - travel. I love to travel, which is the main reason I'm re-locating to Europe. On the flipside I'm very aware that it's a decidely un-eco-friendly pass time. Over the next few months I'd really like to start exploring the most sustainable ways to see the world.

To kick start my green travel adventures, my mission this week is to carbon offset my long haul flight to London.

I've started having a look into carbon offsetting and there is a world of information out there. Hopefully I can distill it down this week and make a decision on the best carbon offset solution for me. If anyone has any recommendations please do let me know!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ode to Baking Soda

Is there anything baking soda can't do?

My mission for last week was to do a green spring clean. I was moving house, so it wasn't exactly a fun mission but I did learn more uses for baking soda than I thought possible.

Here are some of the things I used baking soda for last week: to clean my bathroom, to clean the stains off my white canvas shoes, and in with my washing to freshen up the load. I also tried brushing my teeth with it (not sure my dentist would recommend this, but according to 'the internet' it's safe), and I did find they were sparkling white afterwards! Apparently you can even use it instead of shampoo - so that's one for me to try some time I think.

I have a few other spring cleaning and packing tips that I picked up along the way...
1) Use egg cartons as padding. I read this tip on my egg carton actually and it really worked - use old egg cartons to pack small objects in, or to pad items instead of bubble wrap.
2) Google 'electronics recycling' in your area. I found so many old electronics (why did I have 4 old phones?), so I did a search for my local area and found that I could actually mail my old phones to be recycled, how easy. If you happen to be in the UK Oxfam also has a recycling programme which recycles electronics while contributing to their work - double the feel good factor.

Now there's nothing like a frustrating week of packing and moving to remind me of just how much 'stuff' I have. So many of the items that I packed away seemed to be things that I neither needed or loved. I had to ask myself why I bought these things in the first place, and how can I stop the flow of useless things into my household.

Which leads me to my mission for this week, which I think will probably be one of my most difficult but rewarding things I do to 'go green'. This week I'm going to start the 100 Thing Challenge.

The 100 Thing Challenge is basically a challenge to live with 100 items or less. It sounds like very few items, but I guess each person can define their own rules. I've decided that my 100 things will exclude kitchen and bathroom items for example. The real purpose of the challenge for me is to relook at everything I own, to assess and prioritise what I need and love, and to then work very hard not to increase the number of things I possess.

My goal is to do the 100 Thing Challenge for 6 months - so until October 31st I will live with 100 items or less. Hopefully by then I would have gone a long way towards breaking the buying cycle, and not want to buy more stuff after that!

Now I have to admit that this challenge will be a tad easier for me than most people as I'm moving overseas in 2 weeks, so I can force myself to take only a few things with me. But moving to London, the shopping mecca, will be a challenge itself. Next week I'll have my list of my 100 top things ready to go (and my suitcase packed hopefully), can't wait to see how it goes!

Monday, 11 April 2011


My mission for last week (going vegetarian) turned out to be both enjoyable and tasty! I tried some great recipes, and have some more on my list to try. My favourite was a thai green curry with tofu and lots of green veges. That was the first time I had ever bought or cooked tofu, but in the yummy sauce it worked out perfectly. I also had plenty of my favourite staple pumpkin and cannellini bean soup - quite delicious.

One difficulty I had was my family Sunday night dinner. My brother was cooking at his place, so I couldn't very well say no to the food he'd prepared for us. I think my ongoing committment will be to not buy meat products myself, but in situations like that I would struggle to be a pure vegetarian.

Which is why I've decided that 'flexitarian' is the way to go for me. According to the source of all wisdom (Wikipedia) flexitarian is defined as someone who avoids, but occasionally eats, meat. I found this great Newsweek article on the pros and cons of being part time vegetarian. Although I think I prefer to be called 'almost full time vegetarian' (part time sounds like a very poor attempt!).

The biggest downside for me of going vegetarian is that I think I may have finally tipped the scales towards being that person who makes embarrasingly complicated orders when they go out for a meal. I'm gluten and lactose intolerant, so the list of things I can't eat is rapidly getting longer than the list of things I can. Here's me ordering brunch "Can I please have a soy flat white, and the eggs benedict without the toast, with the sauce on the side of course, oh and hold the bacon".

On the bright side it's all the more reason to cook at home and save money!

This week I'm moving out of my apartment, so my mission is to do a green spring clean.

I'll be investigating some home made green cleaning products, and ways to reduce the amount of unneeded stuff that I own in the cleanest greenest way possible. I'd love to hear any ideas that you have!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Life without technology...

Well I'm pleased to report that I've accomplished mission numero uno, and that it was easier than I thought. I managed to go 24 hours tech free over the weekend - and I genuinely enjoyed it.

So what did I do instead? Well I was lucky that a large amount of that time was taken up babysitting my tiny wee new born niece which was quite a distraction. I also finished the book I was reading, and spent some time trawling through a new recipe book which was extremely relaxing. I also had a great catch up with some friends I hadn't seen in a while - so it was win win win.

I did have one hiccup though, a case of karma perhaps, or divine intervention. I needed to find out some information from a friend so went to turn my phone on before my 24 hours was up... And my phone died, the buttons just wouldn't work. So I've learnt my lesson, never to try and cheat in a challenge!

Because I enjoyed the challenge so much I'm going to commit to a monthly 24 hour technology 'detox'.

Now this week's challenge is going to be a tough one for me - I've decided to go vegetarian.

I've read a huge amount about how bad beef production is for the environment. In fact according to UN figures meat production might create more greenhouse gases than transport!

The reason this is going to be a tough one for me is that I was extremely anaemic last year, so I started putting lots of red meat back into my diet. I also try to stick to a reasonable high protein diet, so I'm a bit scared about how I'm going to get the balance right. But there are plenty of perfectly healthy vegetarians out there so it must be possible right?

The recipe book I've been trawling through is a fantastic vegetarian cookbook that I picked up the other day, with lots of easy healthy recipes to get me started. In fact the first one is in the oven right now and smells fab - stuffed capsicum (or bell peppers if you're not from my part of the world), filled with yummy goodies like tomato rice and pine nuts. Can't wait to try it!

Call to any vegetarians out there: I'd love to here any great tips or recipes if you have them.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Welcome to the Urban Greenie blog!

Hello and welcome to blog number one!

This blog is all about an average city dweller going green.

The motivation behind this mission of mine (and the blog) started when I was watching a documentary about environmental damage to the ocean last week. There was one line in there that particularly struck me as true. Someone said that future generations will look back on us as barbarians for the way we have destroyed the environment, the same way we look back at the generations that allowed slave trade.

I've always thought of myself as being values driven, so to think that my actions might be comparable to slave trade really made me think. As much as I like to think I'm somewhat 'green', the reality is I only am when it's convenient to me. Or when that organic cotton dress is really cute!

So my mission is to turn that around and reduce my carbon footprint, one week at a time. My starting point is pretty miserable - I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that if everyone in the world lived like me we would need 3.42 planets to sustain our lifestyle (check out

My mission for week 1 is this: Go 24 hours technology free.

I've been reading up and in green circles they call this the Unplug Challenge - so I thought it'd be a great way to kick start my new green life. Now it sounds easy - but between my cellphone, computer, ipod, and TV it will certainly be a challenge. Luckily there are plenty of tips online so if you want to try to unplug too check out  ways to survive 24 hours tech free.

I'll report back my success next week - wish me luck!