Little Ways to Help Save Our Planet

Whether you’re interested in saving the bees, the rainforests, the oceans or even your local park, you should be reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible in the process. Although this is obviously not as influential to the grand scheme of a cause as making a donation, little lifestyle changes can still help you make an important difference in the world. I know how easy it is to fall into thinking that your changes are small and insignificant, but you could be the person that inspires someone else to make a change as well. And then the process continues. That’s how change is made. So here’s a list of a few ways you can start contributing to saving our beautiful planet before it’s too late:

Shorten your showers.

Did anyone else used to see those commercials on the Disney Channel, where Brenda Song explained how much water would be saved if we all just shortened our showers by 2 minutes? Well, she wasn’t wrong. An average shower uses 5 gallons of water per minute, so cutting off 2 minutes would automatically save 10 gallons of water (enough to fill a large home aquarium!) I love a long shower just as much as the next person, but those should be saved as a luxury and not as a part of a daily routine.

Unplug electronics and chargers while you’re not using them.

One of my worst habits is leaving my phone and laptop chargers plugged into the outlet behind my bed at all times. Believe it or not, this actually uses power, even if nothing is plugged into them. The effects of leaving a charger plugged in may be minimal when it comes to your electric bill (maybe 10 to 15 extra cents a month,) but if you think about the amount of people on Earth who use outlets, that number surely adds up. Unplugging a charger may be one of the easiest fixes on this list, so try to be conscious and take a few seconds to form this good habit.

Wash your clothes in cold water.

While most fabrics fare better in cold water anyway, many people ignore these instructions and hit the hot water button anyway (often due to the myth that this somehow gets clothes cleaner). In addition to shrinking clothing, washing laundry in hot water also wastes a lot more energy. Other laundry-related ways to save power and water include only washing full loads (you should be doing at most one load a week) and refraining from drying things that you have time to air-dry.

Turn the water off while you brush your teeth.

While dentists recommend that you brush your teeth for two full minutes every morning and night, no one ever said anything about leaving the water on for that whole time period. Most sinks use around 3 gallons of water per minute when left on, so that would about to 12 gallons of water a day wasted. Going back to an earlier point, that’s even more water than those two extra minutes in the shower.

Make the most of the daylight while you can.

Who else instinctively turns the lights on as soon as they enter their room, regardless of what time of day it is? I know I’m definitely guilty of that, and it’s a habit I am definitely trying to curb. I like to sleep with my blinds closed, and I always forget to pull them back up in the morning, meaning my room is usually dark. Instead of doing that and relying on the lights, I know it’s important to make the switch to opening the window during the daylight hours. Besides saving energy, this can also help improve your mood and make you feel way less claustrophobic in your room.

What’s Up With the Mother Grain? Your Quinoa Questions Answered

Quinoa is a delicious edible seed that is eaten and cooked as a grain, nicknamed the “Mother Grain.” It is extremely nutritious and high in protein and amino acids, the reason why people consider it a “super food.” I have to admit that I am huge fan. As a vegetarian, its a great source of protein. It is also extremely versatile and can be used in many different types of plates.

Quinoa has been planted since at least 300 B.C. in the Andean region, from Chile to Colombia. Considered a sacred seed by natives, it was used in religious rituals and did not become extremely popular in the West until five to seven years back.

So, what happens when a crop that was exclusively consumed by only Andean farmers becomes a top choice for all western foodies?

The two main countries that produce quinoa are Peru and Bolivia. In Bolivia, the country’s crop expanded almost 40 times in production from 2000 to 2009. In Peru, production grew almost 20 percent more from 2008 to 2009. Peru exported a worth of $30 million in quinoa in that same year.

For ethical eaters, concerns grew in terms of the tripling of the price of the grain, as well as the potential environmental effects of growing the crop at such an accelerated rate. 2013 was named the International Year of Quinoa. A year where quinoa production reached its peak and where most consequences started to become clear.

In a positive sense, it is providing an income to farmers whose only source of retribution comes from quinoa. On the other hand, the demand for quinoa is so great that it is prompting Bolivian farmers to dispose of traditional farming practices, something that can endanger the ecosystem of the Andes region. The problem is that quinoa is a very delicate crop, which only grows in high lands with cold weather.

It is not a feasible solution to begin planting it in other countries. The crops simply do not flourish as similarly as they do in the Andean region and this will only take away from the farmers who have worked the crop for years.

The real environmental problem with quinoa crops is the potential desertification of the growing region. Changing quinoa from a subsistence crop to a mass commodity leads to farmers working the soil year-round, which degrades the land and damages the soil. This could lead to higher incidence of pests and for the need of farmers to begin using pesticides, making quinoa no longer organic (one of its main appeals for some people.)

Another factor are the llamas. Once they roamed free and grazed the lands where quinoa was planted cyclically but now, they are being moved away to farm even more quinoa on untreated soil. Production of quinoa, and the maintenance of the soil was dependent on the llamas which no longer get the chance to do their work.

So, what is one as a consumer to do?

I would say the first thing is to buy it moderately. You do not need to eat quinoa every day. Make it some what of a treat.

Most importantly, I would say learn where your quinoa comes from. Buying fair trade quinoa (even though its more expensive than the one they sell at Trader Joe’s) will reassure you that the farmers are getting paid for their hard work, while you enjoy the nutritious grain.

Now that you are informed of the wonders, and consequences of eating quinoa, these are some suggestions to how you can enjoy the “Mother Grain.”

  1. Toss it into your salad, or just about anything else! Make sure to cook it before hand. Quinoa tastes so good on its own, that it is a great compliment to almost any meal. Replace rice or pasta, and use quinoa instead for a healthier meal.
  2. Make Quinoa Patties. So easy!
  3. Make Quinoa Chocolate Cake. Yes, it’s real, delicious and gluten free!
  4. Quinoa Black Bean Burgers
  5.  You can also find quinoa bread and quinoa pasta in store as gluten free alternatives.

Enjoy!

Me(at) & You

I grew up as a meat eater. My dad was always very kin on making me a ‘cultured’ eater, on having me try everything and having no fear of food. And, what a wonderful skill he gave me. I tried it all, from lobsters and escargots, to veil and pork. When I turned 19, I became a vegetarian. Now here, I am not going to tell you why you should become a vegetarian and how I’ll hate you if you don’t, I just want to tell you the reason why I chose to become one.

I had been in Spain for the summer, enjoying the pleasure of tapas and jamon serrano, but my body was telling me that something was wrong. I felt heavy and my stomach hurt. Then, I started to realize how much meat I had actually been eating during my time abroad and how much meat in general people eat on a regular basis. I started reading, doing research about the meat industry and the way eating meat can affect the body.

When humans were still in caves, meat was a real luxury. Something that was eaten twice a week if you were lucky. People had to hunt the animals themselves. Nowadays, obtaining food is as easy as going to the supermarket and there is a huge disconnect between people and what they eat. Ask a five-year-old today where food comes from and I am almost positive the answer will be “from the supermarket.” Because having meat on our plates is so easy, you can easily forget (or choose to forget) where it comes from.

When I began to get informed about meat eating, I truly realized the suffering that animals are put through. Farm factories are dark, horrible places where animals don’t live happily ever after. News: the milk you are drinking does not come from a happy cow in a green field. Meat is an industry and meat means money. So, animals are treated just as a means to an end and their suffering is not accounted for. Need I add the amount of antibiotics and hormones put into the animals for them to stay fat.

Food is energy. It is the fuel that moves your body and keeps you alive. Now, if you are eating a burger that came from a cow who had a horrible and stressful death and was filled to the brink with hormones, what type of energy do you think you are putting into your body?

I have always loved animals. I hate to think about the idea of an animal suffering because of me. But, I also know that most animal suffering has developed from the huge disconnect between humanity and nature. Come on, humanity has managed to damage the planet the most out of any animal on it! But still, humans choose to believe we are well above all animals and that animals don’t deserve our respect.

Then, I only became a vegetarian and not a vegan. I still understand how over the years humans have become dependent on animals. I was raised as a meat eater and I am a huge foodie. So, I see it as a process, as micro-revolutions, as small changes in my life that can lead to big changes. First, I stopped eating red meat, then chicken, then fish and soon enough I hope to get to the point where I don’t use any animal products at all. Until then, however, I like to think that my choice to not eat meat everyday has a strong impact on the environment.

If you did not know, the meat industry actually produces 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse emissions. This huge industry is one of the top contributors of climate change, with more than 25% of agricultural land in the globe being used to raise cattle. Can you imagine, how much of that land could feed humans and animals alike, if instead of being used to raise millions of animals and then kill them, it was used to grow grains and plants?

It is simply not sustainable for humans to keep eating meat at the rate it is happening. The meat industry keeps growing, while the environment becomes more damaged. And, I as a consumer, choose to not keep supporting an industry that damages the environment and is also the cause of animal suffering.

It’s been almost three years since I stopped eating meat, and it’s been great. There are vegetarian options almost anywhere you go in the world, and it’s not hard to leave meat when there are so many other wonderful foods that provide just as much protein (avocado, quinoa, soy, kale, almonds, just to name a few.) You just have to get informed and read up a little bit on healthy options to replace the meat on your plate. Every time I eat, and there is no meat on my plate, I have accomplished a micro-revolution that I am so proud of. Yes, people keep eating meat and still animals are killed. But this is why I am telling you why I chose to become a vegetarian and why I am going to tell you that you should think about how you can help the world (and an animal) every day, one bite at a time.

Celebrating Earth Day

As Earth Day arrives, I’m reminded of a riverside clean-up I participated in when I was a member of my high school’s Environmental Club. With a group of thirteen others, I spent two hours walking along the water’s edge picking up garbage. I was astonished by how much of it there was and disappointed at such a lack of concern for nature. We each ended up filling an extra-large, heavy duty garbage bag. At the end of the day, however, I was hopeful. I knew that I would continue to volunteer for various environmental projects and that there were many more people out there who felt the same about nature.

For me, nature is something that is stunningly beautiful and amazingly complex. I can never hope to understand it, but I appreciate it and want it to remain pristine for generations to come. April 22 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day.  US Senator Gaylord Nelson coined the name in 1970 and hoped that by increasing public awareness of pollution, people would become involved. This involvement would then bring the issue of environmental protection to the forefront in the House of Representatives and Senate. I’m happy to say that people are definitely more aware of the environment and how important it is. Nevertheless, we’re still a long way from protecting it fully.

About a month after the riverside clean-up, our club also helped to harvest a community garden, which was one of the best experiences I had. There was a group of young kids present and the adults immediately got them involved. They held several contests where whomever picked the most of a chosen vegetable was the winner. The kids laughed and rushed into the garden. They didn’t worry about getting dirt on their clothes or breaking a nail. They were having fun while also supporting their community in an ecologically friendly way. Having them participate at such a young age also helped them see the importance of the environment and that they can help protect it in a fun way. Volunteering with my high school’s Environmental Club made opportunities like this known to students, but I know there are projects available for anyone outside of this setting. I also know that supporting these endeavors is important no matter what age you are.

Now that I’m in college, there’s been less time to partake in big environmental protection projects. I still do what I can by recycling religiously, using a re-fillable water bottle and supporting local farmers’ markets. However, there are alternative ways to become involved, many of which don’t involve donations. Volunteering is probably the best option. Earth Emerson, Emerson’s environmental club, works to promote environmental awareness and improve the campus and community through student activity. They also host fundraisers, benefit concerts and campus greening projects. Outside of Emerson, numerous community organizations and non-profits are looking for volunteers to help with projects. Greenovate Boston is a great online source that lists a number of environmental groups in the Boston area. ECO-USA is another source that lists organizations by state. If you’ve been inspired and want to become involved now, on Saturday, April 25, the Charles River Waterbed Association is hosting a riverside clean-up from 9am-12pm. This is a huge event supported by well-known businesses and schools such as Boston University and Whole Foods Market. To participate, you simply have to register online.

Know that you don’t have to take part in a big project to become involved. You could do something as simple as recycle and reuse materials or spread the word about the problem. The key thing is that people are learning and raising awareness of the issue. The more people that are knowledgeable on the subject, the more that can be done. Our environment isn’t something that we should take for granted. We should cherish it and protect it like a member of our family, because in way, the environment is a part of everyone’s family.