…and Eating Locally

29 07 2008

Following on my previous post about reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and thinking about my eating habits, I decided to try my hand at “local” eating. I knew that buying stuff at Whole Foods was kind of a no-no, but Farmer’s Markets don’t happen very often around here and I figured I could still try to purchase stuff with local eating in mind.

So first, I needed a game plan. I found an interesting recipe on epicurious for pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes and some olives. To make this recipe, I needed some produce: an onion, tomatoes, and some basil. I shopped carefully: all the ingredients were organic and from California. I also wanted to get some fruit for the week. I love bananas, but I discovered that these come from pretty far away: not really local. So I got some local pluots instead.

The pasta sauce turned out great and made a ton of food, which is always good. The main problem is that buying all this local stuff is not as cheap as heading to Vons and shopping by sales, which is what Luke does. It’s tricky to balance budget with being environmentally responsible, but I think it’s worthwhile to make an effort to eat local, seasonal produce because it encourages variety in my diet (like, how often would I eat pluots otherwise?) as well as in the recipes I make. Sure, now is a great time to enjoy summer tomatoes, but come fall I’m excited to try different recipes with autumn squashes and yams.

So here’s to pluots and yummy tomato sauce and fresh blueberries when I visit home in 2 weeks!



Thinking About Food

24 07 2008

Summer is my time to read as much as humanly possible to make up for the school year. I like to read a wide variety of subjects and my mom, who is a librarian at my sister’s school, helps a lot by sending me a lot of books.

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In the book, Pollan explores the “food chain” behind several meals, including the industrial food chain that leads from corn fields through a variety of factories to create a McDonald’s Happy Meal and a “hunter-gatherer” food chain where he details his experiences learning to hunt and forage his own meal. The parts I found most interesting were his sections on the “industrial organic” and “local” food chains. He confronts the paradox of the “industrial organic” system – that although food can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers, the practices necessary to make organic farming economical on a nationwide level take the “heart” out of the original goal of organic farming. An unavoidable conclusion the reader reaches, especially after reading Pollan’s account of his visit to Virginia’s Polyface Farm, is that the key to our eating woes may lie in small, local farms rather than the ready-cut bag of veggies flown in from an industrial factory across the country.

It would be impossible (and very long) for me to write about everything I learned from this book here on the blog – if you’re interested, you should pick up the book yourself and read it. However, more than anything else, Pollan made me think pretty hard about my own buying and eating habits and what I can (or should) do about them. I’d like to think that doing a better job feeding myself will maybe help me feel and climb better, but who knows…

I suppose I’m a little better off than your average American – my mom brought up my sister and I eating healthy food – lots of fresh veggies, tofu, whole-grain bread, and no junk food. When we did get a “junk food phase” when she let us eat donuts, chips, sugar cereal, soda, white bread, and other things we’d felt “deprived” of, the novelty wore off pretty quickly, leaving me a pretty healthy (I think?) 20-yr old who doesn’t really like candy, chips, coffee, or fast food and has an under-control soda habit (which means about 1 soda per week).

And yet I’m clearly not doing as well for myself as I could. Although I try to cook with whole ingredients, I do often surrender to the draw of Trader Joe’s and their frozen items – vegetable samosas, garlic flatbread, full pasta meal in a bag. And I can’t really consider that I’m doing well for the environment (or myself) when I buy these things (even though I put them in a reusable shopping bag) because the manufacturing and transportation of these products has taken a lot of goodness out of the food and put a lot of badness into the air. I’ve fallen into the trap of the convenience of the supermarket – having pretty much every variety of produce and meat product available year-round, in addition to a wide variety of processed, pre-prepared food items. With all this stuff available, it’s tough to eat responsibly all the time. Even my beloved LaraBars probably represent a lot of petroleum to make, package, and transport.

I think it’s tough to balance the desire to eat responsibly (and well) and economically. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to concoct an entire meal from a few basic ingredients – I live a busy life and reducing stress can often be more important to my overall well-being than cooking a real meal. But, that said, I want to try to eat more locally or responsibly, so we’ll see how it goes – wish me luck!



Bringing a Little More Green to the World

16 07 2008

As you’ve already read, we were just out in New England for Adam and Kearah’s wedding. Their wedding favors were pretty much the awesomest idea ever that I may just have to steal when my day comes around. Instead of silly, useless little gifts like “love spoons” (which Rebecca got as a favor at another wedding), they gave tree seedlings.

In case you didn’t know, I LOVE TREES. I think they’re pretty much the best thing ever. Apparently not everyone there loves trees quite as much as me, so a lot of the favors were left unclaimed. After already collecting my tree and Luke’s tree, I decided to grab another two because I’d hate for these trees to go to waste (i.e. not get planted). I’m pretty sure I ended up with 3 western red cedars, my favorite tree ever and native to the wonderful Pacific Northwest. The 4th one is some sort of pine and it may have to grow a little larger before I can figure out what it is.

The main issue at hand: I live in SoCal. It gets to be over 100 degrees for several days in a row. It never rains. I don’t think my Pacific Northwest cedars would appreciate this weather. So they’re going to be indoor trees for now. I got each of them an 8-inch pot, filled it with soil, and arranged them in front of the window on my desk. Hopefully this should be good for them – moderate temperature inside my room, regular watering, and indirect sunlight.

And just so that my trees don’t feel too out of place growing up in SoCal, I gave them names reminiscent of where I would find their wild relatives: 3 of my favorite PNW climbing towns for the cedars – Squamish, Index, and Mazama; and my new Washington home town for the fir, Poulsbo.

So hopefully I can keep my babies alive and plant them some day (when we live somewhere more appropriate).

Go hug a tree,


Public Transportation Adventures, Part 2

17 06 2008

Gas is getting really expensive. I had my first >$60 fillup the other day. So it seemed like a good time to save some gas and ride the trains back from San Diego again.

The more I try to understand the Metrolink trains, the more confused and frustrated I get. As you may recall from my previous post on this subject, I thought I just needed to get on an earlier coaster to make an earlier Metrolink train. But, as I discovered last night as I was figuring out how early we needed to get up this morning, the latest Metrolink train from Oceanside that goes all the way to LA Union Station leaves at 6:41am. The first Coaster doesn’t get to Oceanside until 7:33am. This is kind of a problem… so much for taking the trains in the morning. It turns out there is only one train after noon that goes all the way from Oceanside to LA. One.

As I discovered this strange phenomenon of utter disharmony between the San Diego (e.g. Coaster) and Metrolink train systems, I figured there MUST be some way that you can easily ride trains from San Diego to LA. I figured that maybe I just needed to catch a different train from an intermediate location (because more trains do leave Oceanside, they just don’t reach LA). The trains leaving from Oceanside are all on the “Orange County Line” route. Most of them reach an intermediate station in Orange. This station is also on the “91 Line“, which runs from San Bernardino (which is out east, for LA neophytes) to Union Station. Theoretically, one could catch one train to Orange and another to LA from the Orange Station. But the latest train one can take from Oceanside is the same 6:41am train that goes directly to Union Station. The same train that is too early to catch with a Coaster.

Ok, I could understand why maybe trains operated by different systems might not run in perfect harmony (e.g. Coaster and Metrolink trains). But even different Metrolink lines clash with each other. Here’s a good example: Train 850 leaves Oceanside at 7:30am and arrives in Orange at 8:32am. Train 685 starts in Orange and heads for Union Station. Logic might have these trains leave and arrive at times so one could make the connection. But instead, Train 685 leaves Orange 10 minutes before Train 850 arrives. So if you were unlucky enough to get on Train 850 to Orange, you’d be stuck there until 4:38PM waiting for the next train to Union Station.

It just seems a little ridiculous to have a train system and not have it scheduled such that it’s easy to use and transfer to different locations. It seems that in the future, I may just have to bite the bullet and buy Amtrak tickets. If I think I will be going back-and-forth enough, I can buy a 10-ride ticket for $150, which is a $7 discount per ride, with a $70 total savings. The only problem being that it’s only valid for 45 days.

I can only hope that as (if) more people start to use public transportation as fuel prices are rising, they’ll take another look at their infrastructure and improve a few things.

However, to avoid being totally negative, the LA Metro system, which includes 4 light rail lines and all the buses, is pretty good. The light rail lines run pretty often (often enough that I don’t need to worry about the schedule) and serve a lot of the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad everything couldn’t be this easy.



A Public Transportation Adventure

2 06 2008

Gas prices just keep getting higher. And although my beloved RAV4 has pretty good gas mileage for how much stuff you can cram into it (~25 mpg), the cost of gas adds up with all the driving to and from climbing areas or San Diego.

There has got to be something better than sitting in traffic on I-5 burning up gas and not get any work done, right?

So this weekend Luke and I decided to experiment. He drove up here to Pasadena on Thursday afternoon because work got cancelled. Then we headed out together (in Luke’s car) to Idyllwild for some high-elevation trad climbing (more on that it another blog), returning to San Diego on Sunday night.

Then, this morning (Monday), he dropped me off at the Coaster station in Sorrento Valley. The Coaster is a train that runs between San Diego and Oceanside along the coast. The ride was fairly short and cost $5 for a one-way ticket. In Oceanside, I had to navigate the transit center to try to get a Metrolink train to Union Station. Unfortunately, this was not as easy as the Coaster had been. There were only 2 ticket kiosks at the transit center and both were broken (there was no alternative method to buy Metrolink tickets). Furthermore, the schedule on the website had made it seem like one could ride most Amtrak trains with any Metrolink ticket, but in fact you need the nearly $400 monthly Metrolink pass to ride Amtrak trains.

So, I missed the earlier train due to general confusion and ended up buying a $22 ticket for the next Amtrak train (and waited for an hour). The next Metrolink train wasn’t til after 3pm and the earlier one had been at 7:30am. So not great service.

However, once I got on the Amtrak train, the ride was fine – the seats were comfortable, the views were nice when we were on the coast.

Once I arrived in Union Station in LA, it was easy to find the platform for the Gold Line rail to Pasadena. A one-way ticket cost $1.25 and the ride was fast and easy. It left me a short walk from my house.

Overall, the trip coast $28.25, a bit more than gas for the one-way drive from San Diego, but less than if I had brought my car to Idyllwild and back in addition to Luke’s car. I also got a ton of reading done, which was really useful. The Metrolink system seemed to be most lacking in terms of regularity of trains or ease of use (like, no way to buy a ticket…), but in the future (now understanding the schedule), I will hopefully be able to better plan around its challenges and lower the overall cost of the trip to $17.75, which, as gas prices increase, starts to be very economically favorable.