Monday, July 27, 2009

Starbucks and Recycling

Last week, I met up with a friend at a Starbucks in Nashville. We had a good time in the warm evening air, catching up and talking about changing the world. We specifically talked about how crummy the recycling opportunities are in Nashville, especially compared to Sweden, where we both grew up. In Sweden, recycling has basically become second nature. This is a combination of education, convenience, and culture. My parents even receive special green bags for compostable waste. (Btw, my spell checker doesn't recognize the word "compostable." That tells you something.) Heck, McDonald's restaurants have recycling stations in Sweden!

When the time came for us to get out of our seats and go our separate ways, we both looked at our empty plastic frappuccino cups and decided that they were very much recyclable. I was pretty sure this Starbucks did not offer recycling, but we decided to go inside and look. Nope. Just a hole for trash. So we decided to ask the barista.

"Where can we recycle these?"

The poor guy looked at his shoes and indicated that they don't offer recycling. He said they did at one point, but customers didn't properly sort their trash, so it didn't work. We gave him a little bit of a hard time and then ended up throwing our cups away. (Yes, I know. I should have taken them with me, but I was in a different city, so I gave in to convenience.)

I was both saddened and excited about this exchange. I was sad about the huge amounts of trash that Starbucks customers generate every day. I was excited to think about the possibilities for positive change. With over 16,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks has a great opportunity to make a huge difference as it relates to contributing to the trash piles.

I was tempted to boycott Starbucks until they start to provide recycling, but I thought I'd do some research first. When I got back home, I went to the Starbucks website and quickly found that they have an entire site dedicated to social responsibility, called Shared Planet. Very cool! I honed in on the "Environmental Stewardship" section. Here are their main bullets on this topic:
  • We've always believed in caring for the environment.

  • Toward 100% reusable or recyclable cups.

  • Toward 100% recycling in our stores.

  • Taking on climate change.

  • It takes all of us. (i.e. bring your own cup)

I read on and discovered that Starbucks has the following goal:

"100% of our cups will be reusable or recyclable. We will significantly reduce our environmental footprint through energy and water conservation, recycling and green construction. Starbucks ability to recycle varies based on the level of commercial and residential recycling services offered in our store communities. We are committed to making 100% of our cups reusable or recyclable by 2015. In the meantime, there are two ways you can help to reduce the environmental impact of our cups: ask for your beverage in ceramic 'for here' or use a commuter mug 'to go.'"
This is pretty exciting. The only sad part here is that even if Starbucks wants to recycle everywhere, the communities in which they exist may not offer the available services. This is where local politics become important.

So, I won't boycott Starbucks. However, I will continue to ask about recycling and I will get better about taking recyclable cups back home where I can recycle them in the basement.

"You and Starbucks. It's bigger than coffee."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Slow Down and Pay Attention!

With the longer and warmer days of summer, I have been doing more walking and running outside in our neighborhood. On fine weather days, Todd and I like to end our day with a brisk walk and a reluctant Sophie (our Bichon Frise) in tow. She likes to stop and investigate EVERYTHING, especially fire hydrants and flowerbeds.

Indeed, we have something to learn from Sophie. In our fast-paced life, we allow the world to fly by and don't really even notice what is going on. Think about it... When you're in an airplane, you pretty much don't see anything that is happening in the world. You're traveling at jet speed (literally) and clouds often obscure your vision. If you slow down to a car ride, you see more things, but everything is buzzing by so quickly, that you can barely register them. How often has your child (or somebody else in the car) exclaimed: "Look, a deer!" and by the time you get around to looking, you're down the road and the deer is out of sight.

When I started biking to work, my appreciation for the route changed drastically. I could smell the trees and the flowers. I saw bunnies hopping across the bike lane. I noticed houses I have never noticed before. It was exhilarating! I also felt my muscles working hard to get up the hills and sweat forming on my forehead as I reached the top. The whole experience created a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction which is not possible with a car ride.

I am able to take in even more of the world when I am running or walking outside. The other day, I was joined by a deer on my morning run. I saw her out of the corner of my eye as she pulled up next to me and then veered off to nibble on a neighbor's landscaping efforts. How magnificent! When I walk, I notice trash on the ground that I sometimes pick up to throw away. I see people that I pass and have a chance to offer them a smile. Perhaps I am able to brighten somebody's day. That is my hope.

The point of this illustration (or is it an allegory?) is to show that the more we slow down, the more we will be able to see the world more clearly and joyfully. This is important for a lot of reasons:
  • You'll know what's going on with the people around you and be able to act accordingly. "Did you have a tough day at school today, honey?"

  • You'll know what's going on in your community and find ways to get involved. I've found an organization called Urban Ecology Center that helps restore and maintain neglected parks in underserved areas of Milwaukee. I've signed up for Park Ranger duty (i.e. picking up trash).

  • You'll know what's going on in the world and may be compelled to help. Have you noticed how many people in the world are starving? Over 1 billion... That's 1/6 of the population.

  • You'll be a healthier person. "Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness." (Richard Carlson)

  • You'll enjoy life more!

We live in a beautiful world. Yes, it's a little messed up, but it is beautiful. Slow down and enjoy the small pieces of beauty that are all around you: A child dancing to the music, a blooming tree, fresh strawberries, a flowing river, a warm smile, a cup of Chai tea, a good book. The list goes on.

Slow down and make the world a better place!

NOTE: Photo by Bev Lloyd-Roberts at stock.xchng.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Food, Inc.

Last fall, I read a powerful and personally influential book on food called "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. In this book, I learned about eating local food, the disturbing facts surrounding the food industry in our country, and how to get turkeys to mate.

As a result, I purchased a "happy" turkey (heirloom variety) from Whole Foods for Thanksgiving and on Jan 1, 2009 took the final step in my protest by giving up meat for a year. So far so good. However, I still have improvements to make. I occasionally purchase "regular" roast beef for Rebecka's lunches and we definitely don't discriminate when we go out to eat.

Last night, Todd and I went to see the much anticipated (at least in slow food circles) movie, Food, Inc. This excellent documentary takes the audience behind the covers of the machine that is the US food industry. As they say in the film, the creators "lift the veil" to uncover the dark and dirty secrets that allow us to buy "cheap" food. It is disturbing, moving, but also provides some hope that things can change for the better. One important take-away for me is that the basic economics 101 principle of supply and demand applies to organic and locally grown food as well. If consumers demand organic food, the mega-retailers will supply it.

Inspired by the film, I returned home and wrote an email to the White House encouraging President Obama to see Food Inc. As I was perusing the White House website, I stumbled across a month-old blog post about the White House garden harvest. I listened to the First Lady's speech and it was encouraging. She obviously gets it.

Here are some other things that you (and I) can do to "vote" with our grocery money and encourage sustainably grown/raised food:
  • Shop at the local Farmer's Market. Don't hesitate to ask the vendors if the food is organic.

  • Buy organic, when available. Unfortunately, this is generally more "expensive" than conventional food, but when you think about the gains (health, energy, sustainability), it pretty much makes it all worth it.

  • Buy local food whenever possible. This includes tuning in to what is currently in season. For example, tomatoes are in season July - early October and apples are in season August - October. If you're hardcore, dry/can/freeze produce to eat during the winter months.

  • Ask your grocery store to carry more organic/local food. I sent an email to my grocery store this morning letting them know that I appreciate the amount of organic food they already have and encouraging them to carry more local and organic produce.

  • When the cashier asks "Did you find everything you were looking for?" politely tell them you didn't find locally-grown organic produce (or whatever you are looking for) and that you will have to buy that elsewhere.

  • Find out where your restaurant food came from. Reward restaurants who use mostly organic/local/in-season food for their menu.

I encourage all of you to see Food, Inc. and tell your friends, family, and coworkers about it. This type of awareness is needed in order to affect change. As the Slow Food USA organization states in their vision: "Food is a common language and a universal right." All people have the right to healthy food which is raised humanely and with the planet's best interest in mind.

Imagine the possibilities!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

June Giving (or Better Late Than Never)

OK, so I know it's already past the middle of July, but I just realized I never blogged about our June donations. I don't like to leave things unfinished, so here we go...

June was kind of a hodgepodge of donations to several cool organizations:
  • Conservation International: This environment-focused organization does lots of great things to protect forests and other threatened habitats as well as endangered species.
  • Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC): I learned about this organization from a lady at the "gym." This is a great activist organization that keeps members abreast of environmental problems (such as wolves and polar bears disappearing) and encourages political action.
  • VHI Save the Music: I cannot imagine what my life would be like without music education. When schools start cutting music, art, and physical education you know it's time to move (or do something about it!).
  • Zen Habits: Zen Habits got me going in the right direction related to simple living and simple productivity. I owe Leo a lot and want to help support his writing.
  • Just Hope International: This Nashville-based organization helps end the cycle of poverty by providing basic needs and helping people build micro-businesses so they can take care of themselves. My dear friend Melissa travels to distant lands to do photography and videography. You can see some of her work here.

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." [Acts 20:35]

Sunday, July 05, 2009

My Weekend and Related Thoughts

I spent this 4th of July weekend alone with lots of time for introspection, retrospection, and future-spection. Todd and Rebecka left for Washington D.C. early on Saturday morning and I returned to a quiet apartment (aside from an occasion outburst from Sophie when another dog passed by in the hallway).

One of my goals for the weekend was to bake some bread. Good, Swedish bread. I have tried it a couple of times since we moved here and it's never worked out quite right. This time I decided to read the instructions on the yeast packet carefully and follow the directions. Things were going pretty well until I tried to turn on my fancy, red Kitchen Aid mixer. It wouldn't turn on. I tried a different plug. I tried detaching and re-attaching the bowl. I tried detaching and re-attaching the dough hook. No luck. Well, I thought, people have been making bread for thousands of years without Kitchen Aid mixers (red or otherwise), so I'll just do it by hand. It was hard work, but the awesome thing is that the bread turned out just right! We think we're so dependent on our electronic gadgets that do everything from giving us driving directions to letting us know if our guitars are properly tuned. It was a great Saturday morning reminder.

After a delicious lunch consisting of fresh bread with sliced hard boiled eggs and dill, I decided to head over to a nearby mall (more specifically to Barnes & Noble). Since the morning, I had experienced a really strong desire to read the Bible (it had been a while...). I searched around for one at the apartment, but all I could find was an old KJV and the old Swedish version. I wasn't about to suffer through that... It was a nice day, so I decided to bike the three miles to the bookstore. People looked at me kind of funny as I biked through the mall parking lot. Not a common sight, I suppose. I didn't really care. I found the Bible shelf and couldn't find what I was looking for. I was tempted by "The Green Bible," but thought it was a bit expensive. Instead, I started browsing the "Inspirational" section. I wasn't hopeful that I would find anything worth reading, but as I was glancing through the rows of "devotionals," I spotted a book that stood out among the glossy, colorful majority. The front looked like it was make of cardboard. "Promising," I thought as I reached for it. The title said "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical" by Shane Claiborne. That name rung a bell in my brain. I was associating the name with my brother, David. As I read the back cover, it clicked. This is the founder of an intentional community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. Bingo! This was just what I needed. I bought a Chai Latte (soy milk, no water) and poured over the book for about 30 minutes. It drew me in like a magnet.

I had to interrupt my reading and ride home to get ready for an outing with a friend. We were bound for downtown Milwaukee for dinner and later a concert with The Fray at Summerfest. It was a good time, but when I got home (way past my bedtime) I couldn't help myself but to continue reading my new book. The intentional community concept is extremely intriguing to me. Sharing common spaces and possessions just makes sense. Why does everybody need their own lawnmower, car, washing machine, etc, etc? The answer is, we don't. The thought about belonging to a community like this where love of God and neighbor is the central "mission statement" is even more intriguing.

I woke up early with the chirping birds. It was another beautiful day, so I decided to forgo the treadmill and go for a walk around the neighborhood instead. As I walked past the big houses with their tennis courts and swimming pools, all I could see were prisons and barbed wire. I couldn't shake this vision. I started thinking about that image. We have created these neighborhoods with the over-sized houses and yards and they are really two-way prisons. They do not let people in (or at least not the people from the "bad part of town") and they imprison the people who live there. With a huge mortgage and maintenance costs, these families have to continue to work long hours at jobs they may or may not enjoy to keep up the lifestyle. We are prisoners in our grand homes.

It was a sobering thought. I thought about how many families could fit in each of those houses. Families who could share meals and enjoy that type of community. Sharing responsibilities such as cleaning, cooking, and washing the dishes. Raising each others kids. I've heard it takes a village.

Later on, I packed a lunch and biked over to the park we went to last Sunday. I found a quiet spot on the lake and enjoyed my simple meal and continued to read my book. It was pretty serene until a pesky mosquito (or two) bit me on both my feet. Ouch! However, it didn't deter me from staying a bit longer. Once a bee started buzzing around my head, I decided it was time to go.

I spent the afternoon playing guitar, reading, napping, playing the piano, taking Sophie for a nice, long walk (hopefully she'll sleep well tonight). Once I'm done with this post, I'll continue reading about The Simple Way. I'll leave you with a section from the book that ties in quite well with my morning vision:
"One of the things I think Jesus is doing is setting us free from the heavy yoke of an oppressive way of life. I know plenty of people, both rich and poor, who are suffocating from the weight of the American dream, who find themselves heavily burdened by the lifeless toil and consumption we put upon ourselves."

Note: Image by Miguel Saavedra at stock.xchng

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Biggest Loser Winner: Todd

I can't believe it's already over! Todd is the man. He lost 11 lbs. in a month. I lost two... Todd gets a new outfit and a romantic dinner at the restaurant of his choice. Ready when you are!

Congrats babe!