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Umbra on food storage

Dear Umbra, I recently read about the possible effects of plastics on women and the fetuses they may be carrying. I'm ready to change my ways, but I'm not sure how. Do you have some good suggestions about other ways we can package our leftovers or pack foods for lunch at school and work? NataliePortland, Ore. Dearest Natalie, Time to go old school, perhaps literally. If plastic is the problem, the answer may be one compound word: ante-plastics. Before plastic became omnipresent, workers and students transported prepared foods in containers made from other materials. Those antiquated containers may be just …

Read more: Food, Living

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How to streamline your life and still enjoy the heck out of it

Editor's note: Ever wonder when We the People stopped being called citizens and started being called consumers? Take back your real identity, and take the consumption-crazy days from Thanksgiving to New Year's in stride -- with Umbra Fisk's guide to graceful (and limited) consuming. Consumption is one of life's great pleasures. Buying things we crave, traveling to beautiful places, eating delectable food, owning every Stevie Wonder album: icing on the cake of life. But too often the effects of our blissful consumption make for a sad story. Giant cars exhaling dangerous exhaust, hog farms pumping out noxious pollutants, toxic trash …

Read more: Living

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Umbra on microwaves

Dear Umbra, We recently bought a new (to us) house and acquired a microwave oven. Having gotten this far in life without one, we figured we wouldn't use it all that much. Ha. We use it all the time. It's just so much faster than heating things on the stove. I do wonder, though, which is more energy-efficient. Is it more eco-friendly to heat milk for a minute in the microwave, or five minutes on the gas stove? And is there anything to the persistent rumors of stray radiation from microwaves? Z.B.Pittsburgh, Penn. Dearest Z.B., Microwaves and their ovens remind …

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Umbra on supermarket coolers

Dear Umbra, Every time I go to the grocery store and see meats, dairy products, and other products displayed in open-air refrigerators, I get a little miffed and wonder if this isn't a huge waste of energy and a tremendous cost to the supermarket as well. Do supermarkets make more money having their products in open-air rather than closed-door displays? DelosChapel Hill, N.C. Dearest Delos, If you've ever made an impulse purchase, you can answer that question for yourself with a resounding "yes." And the friendly co-operative grocery store designer with whom I spoke will confirm it. Anything that stands …

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Umbra on eco-friendly fish consumption

Dear Umbra, I recently turned 40 and have decided I need to pay more attention to what I eat on a daily basis. My diet has never been horrible, and I've always believed in all things in moderation, but a persistently elevated cholesterol level and my mortality now a smudge on the horizon have helped nudge me in this direction. And everywhere I turn it's fish, fish, and more fish: doctors recommending more omega-3 oils (in the form of fish-oil pills), Oprah lending her support to a heart-healthy diet full of salmon, and on and on. Not to mention that …

Read more: Food, Living

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Umbra on driving in neutral

Dear Umbra, I have a question about getting the most miles per gallon. If you put your car into neutral at stops or going downhill, do you save any gas? My car is an automatic. JeffVerona, N.J. Dearest Jeff, Another great question we have all pondered. Louisa and her fellow mechanics thought you might save a little gas. Let me be more specific: a very, very small amount of gas. Droplets. In the final cost-benefit analysis, those droplets you save cannot compare to what you risk. Should you suddenly need to execute an accident-avoiding maneuver while coasting in neutral, you …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Umbra on car heaters

Dear Umbra, My friend and I have a bet going that I hope you can settle. She thinks that running the heat in a car in the winter is "free" -- that is, it doesn't use additional gas. As a conservationist, this pleases her greatly. However, I think that turning on the heat does use additional gas if you are using the defroster. Can you settle this for us? Thanks! SamaDenver, Colo. Dearest Sama, You win. But I fear this is a wager with no practical application: The defroster is not a luxury feature. Seeing the road is a vital …

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Umbra on recycling batteries

Dear Umbra, I have to humbly admit that for years I've known that one can recycle batteries, but unfortunately, I've never known where or how to do this. I've been living in Seattle and northern Italy for the last year, and I have a pile of old batteries in each place. If you have any insight into how I might go about recycling them in both the U.S. and Europe, I'd so appreciate it! With gratitude, MegSeattle, Wash., and Ivrea, Italy Dearest Meg, You lucky dog! Would I were in an Italian basement with only batteries on my mind. I'll …

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Advice on choosing carrots

Dearest Umbra, I'm curious how they make those mystical little carrots that are just the right size for snacking. Are baby carrots actually harvested that small, or are they carved out of bigger carrots? If they're carved out of bigger carrots, where do all the shavings go? Bottom line: Am I supporting a wasteful production process when I buy baby-cut carrots or is my green consciousness just a tad bit hyperactive? TylerWashington, D.C. Dearest Tyler, Baby carrots have veritably jumped off the shelves in recent years. You hardly see people eating normal carrots any longer. It's too much work, really, …

Read more: Food, Living

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Umbra on reversing the tide

Dear Umbra, I can't take it! A body-building actor was just elected governor of my state! I'm going to go mad! Then my friend said, "Don't get mad, get even." You've got to help me -- California is crazy, but at least we've been setting the standard on some environmental issues. (Not all of them, I know, but quite a few.) I've never believed that letters or marching or such things help, but now I'll do anything. Anything! If next year's presidential election goes like this, I'll really lose it. Tell me what to do. Help me, Obi-Wan! SamBakersfield, Calif. …

Read more: Politics