Monday, November 22, 2010

Veggie Thanksgiving

This question came up at dinner tonight, and I thought I'd put it to all of you: if you wanted, for some reason, to serve a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner, how would you do it?

This isn't the same thing, mind you, as serving a Thanksgiving dinner at which some vegetarians will be present. Nowadays, my folks get a free-range bird for Thanksgiving from Griggstown Quail Farm (they ain't cheap, but it's only once a year) so that I can partake, but before they started doing that, I used to manage quite nicely on the potatoes and veggies and dressing and cranberries and salad and, of course, pie. I never ran any risk of going hungry. But supposing that you had to accommodate a crowd composed mostly of vegetarians, or that you yourself didn't want to serve any meat, how would you go about it?

Would you try to create a new, vegetarian centerpiece for the meal to take the place of the turkey? (This is the approach a lot of vegetarian magazines seem to take, which gives them an opportunity to shoot gorgeous cover photos of some show-stopping dish.) Or would you have just the traditional side dishes that usually surround the turkey, as described above, but without the bird? Or would you throw out the whole idea of the traditional Thanksgiving meal and do something else entirely?

I think my favorite approach is a sort of middle ground. I wouldn't scrap the traditional Thanksgiving menu entirely, but I wouldn't be limited by it. So rather than trying to construct a meal with one big main dish and a bunch of sides, I'd serve several hearty, seasonable dishes that would complement each other: butternut squash soufflé, succotash, "half baked" potatoes (i.e., cut in half and then baked, so they get nice and crispy), and of course, cranberry sauce. Probably some sort of green veggie, too, like that wonderful sesame spinach someone brought to the last Folk Project Evening of Music (note to whoever it was: if you're reading this, please send me the recipe). I might do some sort of dressing (you can't call it "stuffing" if it's not served in the bird) in place of the potatoes, since that's normally my favorite part of the meal and I think I'd miss it if it weren't there. On the other hand, it's really not the same without any gravy. Perhaps I'd just make a mushroom gravy to serve with it.

What do y'all think?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Gates of Heaven

Well, it's official: I don't hate Bill Gates anymore.

I was already on the fence about him, because on the one hand, he turned Windows—which I loathe in all its forms—into the dominant operating system in the world, so that now even those of us who hate it have to use it in order to be compatible with everyone else. But on the other hand, he has taken the billions he made from this venture and invested them in things like worldwide vaccination and better agricultural techniques, helping to ward off famine and pestilence around the globe.

Then today, I read in my "Climate Minute" newsletter that Gates is devoting millions of dollars to the goal of developing carbon-free energy sources—the silver bullet as far as alleviating global warming is concerned. Here's a quote:

Today, we're very dependent on cheap energy. We just take it for granted—all the things you have in the house, the way industry works. I'm interested in making sure the poorest countries don't get left behind, so figuring out how they can get cheap energy is very, very important. Whether it's fertilizing crops or building housing, a lot of it comes down to energy.
Investigating further, I discovered that back in February, Bill Gates gave a talk about clean energy at the TED conference. One of the big technologies he highlighted in the talk was a new type of nuclear reactor that can run entirely on depleted uranium—something we already have enough of in this country to meet our energy needs for the next 100 years. The company in question is named TerraPower, and the new reactor it's developing is called a traveling wave reactor, or TWR. And Bill Gates is one of its biggest investors. So I'd definitely bet on it to be a financial success, because if that man can out-compete every rival with an inferior product, then just think what he'll be able to do with a truly superior technology. (I'd have bought some of their stock myself, but it's a privately held company.)

The point is, we're talking about a machine that can take spent nuclear fuel, something we desperately need to get rid of safely, and turn it into cheap, clean energy, something we desperately need more of. This is ecofrugality on a grander scale than anything I've ever conceived of before, and Bill Gates is the guy who's going to make it happen. How can I possibly go on hating him?

I still hate Windows, though.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stuff Green People Like

Yesterday, my uncle Jay forwarded me this link to the blog "Stuff White People Like." It's a reference to the late, lamented TV show "My So-Called Life," which played out its first and only season during my senior year of college. I was indeed a huge fan of the show, but I was actually kind of ticked off by the implication that this is a characteristic I share with all "white people." After all, if all white people liked the show that much, then how come it got canceled after one season? Back at the time, liking that show was something that actually set us fans apart from mainstream America. So how does this guy Christian Lander reckon that being a fan of it now is simply a part of mainstream, white-American culture?

Perusing the blog in more detail, I found that what annoyed me about this one entry was really typical of the blog as a whole. It's obvious from the title of the blog that it's going to be nothing but blatant stereotypes, but that would be pardonable if the stereotypes were incisive and funny. The problem is, Lander is actually promulgating a stereotype of a very specific subculture of white America (and Canada)—the upper-middle-class, northeastern liberal elite so despised by the Tea Party—as belonging to "white people" in general. It's not just an invidious stereotype; it's an invidious, inaccurate stereotype. Sarah Palin probably hates everything on Lander's full list of Stuff White People Like, from organic food to Bob Marley.

Aside from the fact that this just promotes the idea that racial profiling is okay, as long as it's aimed at a privileged group (they're stereotypes of white people! Get it?), I couldn't help being annoyed at the wooliness of the stereotype itself. I pretty clearly belong to the group Lander is trying to satirize, and many of the things on his list (farmer's markets, David Sedaris, recycling) are things I like a lot. Yet there were also quite a few things on the list (having two last names, modern furniture, being offended) that I positively dislike, or at a minimum, have no interest in. And as I ticked my way down the list, I kept finding items that are antithetical to my ecofrugal lifestyle: you'll never catch me going to a place that charges $9 for a sandwich, especially when most of the items on the menu aren't vegetarian, nor am I about to pay $10 for a Moleskine notebook that isn't even made with recycled paper.

So I've decided to start my own list. It's called "Stuff Ecofrugal People Like," and it's for people who are really part of my tribe—regardless of skin color.

1. Public libraries. More books than one person could ever read, plus music recordings, movies, Internet access, and even community gatherings like film screenings, poetry readings, and classes for kids. All for free! (Well, not exactly free, since it's paid for by your tax dollars. But if you have to pay them anyway, you might as well get your money's worth, right?)

2. Creative reuse. Take an object that's no longer useful for its original purpose, and turn it into something else—the more unexpected, the better. Plant flowers in an old boot. Turn an obsolete Macintosh computer into a fish tank. Make coasters out of unwanted CD-ROMs. Make your own notebooks out of scrap paper (much more frugal than Moleskine). This is an ecofrugal three-fer: it keeps waste out of landfills, saves the money and resources that would otherwise be used on new stuff, and gives you the creative kick of seeing an old object in a new way.

3. Freecycle. Also a three-fer, this allows you to prevent waste, get rid of stuff you don't want, and get useful stuff for free. It's even better than thrift shops and yard sales, which ecofrugal people also love.

4. The Habitat ReStore, where you can get all manner of useful stuff for your home (from a single nail to a complete set of kitchen cabinets), save resources, and support a good cause all at the same time.

5. Wasted Spaces, a home-improvement show hosted by a sexy Australian who actually makes an existing space work better instead of tearing everything out and replacing it. A typical budget for this show is around $500 rather than $5,000 or $15,000 or $25,000, and it's great fun to see all the creative ways Karl finds to make use of space that the homeowner probably never realized was there. (Did I mention he's a sexy Australian?)

6. Trader Joe's, which sells green goodies like organic raisins, Fair-Trade coffee, and free-range chicken for lower prices than anyplace else, along with a tempting array of tasty prepared treats like maple sandwich cookies, crumpets, and fizzy limeade. (To keep the frugal in ecofrugal, we limit ourselves to one non-list purchase per visit.)

7. Biking to work. Hybrid cars are nice, but they ain't cheap. A bike, by contrast, costs little to buy and maintain, uses no gas at all, and gives you some exercise into the bargain. Plus it enables you to skirt right around traffic jams and feel smug.

That's all I have so far. If there's anything else you think really needs to be on the list, post a comment and let me know.


Meant to post this here on November 2, but I accidentally put it up on the old blog instead:

Waah, no election day freebies!

Remember back in 2008, when you could get free coffee, ice cream, and other goodies just for voting? I missed out on the free ice cream that year, so this year I was determined to find out just what kinds of free stuff were available. So, before running out to vote, I did a quick Google search on "election day freebies." Sorting through the results was a bit tricky, because most of them were actually from 2008. At last I found a link specifically about the 2010 election—but instead of listing free goodies, it talked about the lack of any. Yes, it appears that all those companies that were so eager to help get out the vote back in 2008 have now decided that there's nothing wrong with voter apathy after all.

OK, I realize that participating in the democratic process is supposed to be its own reward, but it's still a disappointment. It's like going to give blood and finding they're all out of cookies.