School Lunches are Disgusting!

There is a secret undercover teacher eating school lunches. Mrs. Q has decided to slum it with our best and brightest for a whole year. I say slum it because the food she is eating looks absolutely horrid.

Or, it looks just like what every American eats on a daily basis: pizza, hot dogs, pasta, chicken nuggets.

Every day she takes a photo of the food and writes about it. It looks so nasty you just have to see it to believe it (are you eating this too?)…

Day 86 – Hot Dogs


Day 87  – Pizza


Day 88 – Chicken Nuggets


Day 89 – Pasta


Rant About Lazy Americans

So I posted this comment on twitter as robotchampion:

@gavinNewsom in San Francsico, signs first ever compost mandate, requires food scraps be gathered for composting. –

And got this response in Facebook:

“Nothing like building global harmony through state coercion!”

Now this gets me going. In my journeys through A Clean Life one thing keeps hitting me smack in the head. Our environmental problems come from us, the people.

You can’t blame the big companies anymore. You can’t blame the government anymore. There is nothing left to blame and that means we are the last to change. We are passively resisting a better world…why?

lazycatIf you look at Zero Waste initiatives around the country they do so much for every community. Starting with saving money for people, in the form of lower taxes or reduced trash costs. Then go onto time savings, producing so much trash takes effort. You have to open, trash it, and then carry out to the street. We take so many trips to empty our cans each week. Then we have to drag out a bin to the curb. Place bags in the trash cans.

Just think about it, break the habit and the routine. Save money, spend less time throwing things away, and yes make our communities a better place to live. In fact, the environmental benefits are enormous, effecting nearly every place you can go.

Then look at the Local Food movement. This is one of those insane topics. Overweight people who diet, workout, and spend money on diet foods and gyms, actually complain about the cost of local food. The number one most important thing you can do for your body is to have a solid diet. Local food is the diet you need and local fresh food is the perfect diet.

Yet we passively resist. Partly, I think, due to a mistaken belief in mass marketing. You know those commercials and brand labels that offer you the perfect chocolate snack with enriched vitamins and fortified minerals. Ya, believing in that marketing is like satisfying a thirst with one drop of water. You don’t think those companies plan on not filling you up. Why would they ever want you to get full?

The real value of that chocolate bar is minimal to your body, like one drop of water when you need a glass of water.

Cost. It’s a myth. Good food is cheap. Go to any store that sells local food and you will find cheap prices. The problem here is twofold. First, please don’t go to those places and try to buy macaroni and cheese. You will not find any 20 cent Ramen noodles here. Buy the food that they specialize in and you will find great prices. Don’t get angry at these kind of stores because apples are cheap and cheetos are 6$ a bag.

Second, you don’t understand food. Everything we eat is grown/raised somewhere. Then there is a harvest time when that food type is abundant. This seasonal food is cheap due to abundance, better for you because its so ripe, and completely fulfilling. They are glasses of water.

Americans don’t follow this pattern though. We eat whatever we want whenever we want. Most think this is ideal, but its not. The ideal is a fit healthy body that avoids the doctor’s office and occasionally partakes in non-seasonal food.

Wow, this rant is angry. It does show you why I’m all for a little state coercion. How else do you get people to change??

But hey now don’t take my word for it. Dig into the issues and you will find these words to be truth. Or, watch this video of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:

“if they dont care about themselves, or their family, then its like second hand smoke it effects all of us”

Zero Waste – 5 Things You Didn’t Know

I love the idea of zero waste. It’s something that catches everyone and gets them to think.
Jorvetson: "Giving thanks to the open ocean, just off Waimea. Underwater shot while snorkeling." (from Flickr)

  • Is it possible?
  • How would we do something like that?
  • What would our world look like?

I guess it depends on if your a visionary or a realist. Either way here are five things I can tell you about zero waste.

  1. I am living a zero waste lifestyle. I’m not a radical extremist either. I do not stick out or need special help. My life is simpler and easier since I made the change and I’m also happier and healthier.
  2. Your home can be zero waste. I’ve visited a home with a large house, 2 cars, a big  yard, and yep no waste. The two people living there have a deal with their neighbors to take some of their trash since they are missing some raw materials. They get to skip the weekly work on taking out trash and feel good about living a clean life.
  3. Zero Waste means a little bit of work but a lot of habit changes. This is possibly the hardest part about becoming zero waste, changing habits. The work is easy, surprisingly easy, but changing those habits requires time and patience. It’s a path with plan, not an overnight change. Though, most folks do make the change very quickly. The best place to start is recycling, maximize what you are recycling. Next, focus on reducing. This can happen in any number of ways but always results in less spending and more saving for you.
  4. Business can be zero waste. Believe it or not the biggest impediment to becoming zero waste is us. The facilities exist, the people with expertise exist, and even the local/state/federal governments want this to happen. Still, some business are taking a leading role (and building up their green prestige among customers) by putting themselves on a path to zero waste. This often starts with a reality check, how much are we spending on trash right now, how many pickups are we asking for. Then it moves into change management with a plan to decrease spending on trash every month/quarter. Eventually the cost savings are realized and the business then switches over to a zero waste plan.
  5. Our World Needs Your Help. You cannot go anywhere (save the desert or mountains) and not find trash. In fact, it is normally littered on the streets, in our waterways and parks. We all know this but have become used to it. In fact, I remember at an early age accepting that our world is getting worse. I remember thinking that making this world dirty is natural and acceptable. Well, it’s not and with very little work we can all inch towards a zero waste country.

Imagine a United States that is zero waste. Imagine taking your kids, friends, and loved ones into parks and oceans that are clean and healthy. Start now and take your baby steps towards zero waste.

Walt Whitman – A Grump’s Composter

Walt Whitman - em Camden, 1891 (from marcelo noah on Flickr)
Walt Whitman - em Camden, 1891 (from marcelo noah on Flickr)

It’s Sunday night I’m a grump too. Walt and I share the blues:

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,

Though, for me the grumps come from exhaustion and a happy but tired end to the week. So, I was pleased to come across this poem by Walt Whitman called “This Compost”.

Behold this compost! behold it well!

Alas, soon I will fall asleep and my grumps will dream themselves away. Still I thought it pertinent to share this moment with you, in all its bluesy compassion. I look forward to a great summer full of new things.

It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

Thanks for reading and here are two delightful items for you. One is a nice video about 5/6th grade students who “create a composting project to help diminish the amount of garbage disposed during lunchtime at their school.”

After that the poem in full (which I must warn is about all the people that have died, been buried, and then been reborn in the earth through composted soil).

Composting Buddies from PS47Q/District 27 on Vimeo.

This Compost

by Walt Whitman

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring? How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper’d corpses within you?
Is not every continent work’d over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv’d,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.
Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person; yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awardes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatche’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the doooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That the blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

The 5 Step Compost

One of the big initiatives of the nonprofit, A Clean Life, is education. To truly develop a sustainable lifestyle for our community we need to help each other learn and grow.

The good part is that everyone already knows an incredible amount about the trash system in their community. They know when the trash comes, how to sort their own trash, what to recycle at work, and sometimes even the local recycling stations.

Photo by Colin J. on Flickr - "we served chard and kale for dinner the other night and this was left over...

The next step is to add a new layer to that, compost. The process of composting is actually very easy. It is a lot like recycling but with an added farmer’s touch.

For those of you interested in developing your own compost, here is some information to get you started:

1. Find an indoor compost bin

2. Place compost bin in kitchen

3. Find a backyard bin

4. Dump compost in the backyard bin

5. Follow the two guidelines below for compost: acceptable material and turning.

Most of the time you can begin to compost by just using existing trash cans or bins lying around your home. A good tip is that plastic bags won’t compost, so definitely use them to line your indoor compost bin, but no need to stick it in the backyard bin.

Now on to the two most important guidelines of the whole process:

Acceptable Material

Below is a good starting list for what to compost. All of the materials below can be added to your bin. But, its important to think of compost as a living thing. You will need to make sure that you are feeding it the right stuff.

A good rule of a green thumb would be to have an equal mix of brown stuff (leaves, paper, fur) with green stuff (yard trimmings, coffee, vegetables)


tea bags




coffee/coffee grinds

cardboard/paper/newspaper (helps if shredded to 1-1.5 inch size)

egg boxes

egg shells

paper towel rolls/toilet paper rolls



dryer lint


Meat, dairy, dog doo or other waste.


Turning is simply the ‘turning over of the compost pile’. It is also one of the most interesting areas of advancement in compost. Traditionally farmers would just pile their compost up and then leave it for a few years as part of their crop rotations.

Now turning is almost mandatory for any compost pile. Studies have found that this little bit of effort, combined with a few other activities can drastically reduce the time needed to compost from years to days.

The reason being is that the microorganisms that break down your trash are real good at what they do. In the center of your pile they will be working overtime. It is very common to have the center of your pile steaming hot. So the idea is to make sure their work is spread evenly across the pile and not just breaking down the center.

If you are interested in the days portion and not the years, here are some simple steps to help you.

First, make sure to ‘turn’ your pile by grabbing a shovel or other item. Turn your pile just a bit by moving some of the edge stuff into the center. This can be done every day for maximum efficiency (time reduction), but doesn’t need to be.

Second, add water if the pile gets too dry, ideally the pile should be moist. Third, really practice your sorting. Make sure you have the right mixture of brown to green (as explained above).

Compost Soil by Normanack (on Flickr)

Fourth, and really optional, but hey someone out there wants to be a master composter. Establish a few backyard bins for use. Fill up one and then don’t add to it anymore. Since composting is a process if you keep adding new material you are starting the process over again.

If done right, you should have some amazing dirt, instead of trash. Use the dirt in your potting or backyard, or even give it some neighbors.

P.S. If ur interested in more on this, I recommend this 3 page study by Berkeley professor Robert Raabe (pdf)

My Visit to Whole Foods Compost

Tonight I visited the Whole Foods stores of Washington D.C. and spoke with a nice lady named Erin. She is a part of the green mission for the market super chain. Thank you very much Erin for showing me around the compost operations.

Whole Foods is truly a unique operation in that it actually has a green mission. The mission is a part of its core values to care “About Our Communities & Our Environment”. Now, I bet most of you are thinking that this is another corporate ploy. I had the same thought and so I used this opportunity to discover for myself.

Right when I arrived at the Tenleytown store, Erin greeted me and we began discussing the internal workings of the composting business. We talked about facilities, pick-ups, and different types of decomposition. She explained how the stores she works with are cutting their waste disposal costs in half by actively engaging in composting. They are able to divert very high percentages of their waste away from landfills. Something in the range of 80-90%, very close to being a zero waste corporation.

That right there was enough for me. Here is a large operation that could be sending out many tons of waste each day to our landfills. Instead they are being proactive, saving money, and proving that it works.

As we continued along, Erin showed me how she implemented these features in the store. At nearly every location where a trash can existed there was also a recycle bin and a compost bin. Now anyone involved in recycling knows that sorting this stuff is tough. Yet the employees had worked this into their daily activities, it was almost second nature. It was really cool to watch one worker spend the time to break down and compact some cardboard, instead of just wheel it outside to the dumpster.

An interesting side note is that all of this is hidden from the customers. We definitely live in a bubble wrapped world.

Other features of the operation were that as the process grew she was working on making everything in the store recycled. The actual trash bins were few and far between (most that I did see were for the customers). The large trash chutes and compactors were now being used for compost and recycling, rather than for landfill trash.

Can you imagine working in an environment with only recycle/compost bins and no trash cans?

I’m not sure these workers ever imagined that, but here they are working that way. They were deeply involved in a quiet compost revolution at their stores.

Overall it was quite an impressive operation and I walked away impressed and hopeful for this nonprofit’s future.

Thanks again Erin.

P.S. thanks to the @wholefoods twitter account for this informative tweet. Also, here is a link to their blog about their compost operations.