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Gimme 8 percent of your lunch! You’re not going to eat it anyway

When presented with a plate of delicious food, do you eat all of it? Every last bit? Is the plate pristine at the end of your eating session? Yes? Well, okay, you are a liar.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, on average, we eat 92 percent of the food on a plate. Good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it): If the food is unhealthy, that figure goes down to 81 percent.

What does 92 percent of a meal look like? The friendly staff at Grist have compiled a very helpful guide using your - yes, YOUR - diet as an example!

Read more: Food, Living

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Back-to-the-land meets back-to-the-future

Amory Lovins’ high-tech home skimps on energy but not on comfort

Amory Lovins' Banana Farm
© Judy Hill Lovins

For most of its history, environmentalism has been associated with a back-to-the-land lifestyle: being one with nature, living in the woods, wearing sandals, maybe driving a Volkswagen. Over the last decade, a counter-narrative has taken over. Cities are in. As climate change has become the dominant environmental issue, a low-carbon lifestyle has become the priority. Denser living is heralded for its energy efficiency, as are walking, biking and taking transit instead of driving.

All other things being equal, walkable urbanism beats sprawl. But one house in Old Snowmass, Colo., demonstrates that, with the right design, rural living can be about as low-carbon as possible. And it turns out those hippies were on to something: the secrets to low-impact rural housing lie in embracing nature instead of combatting it. Plus it helps to have some bleeding-edge technology.

Amory Lovins, the owner of the house, is exactly the guy you'd expect to live here. A bespectacled physicist and world-renowned energy-efficiency expert, he cofounded the Rocky Mountain Institute in 1982 with his then-wife L. Hunter Lovins. They chose this location, nestled up in the mountains 14 miles from Aspen, for RMI's first headquarters, which they built as a model of energy efficiency. The original structure was completed in 1984. Today, RMI has expanded into other buildings, but Lovins still lives in the original house, which got a high-tech makeover in 2009.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Put down the kale and step away

Relax, everyone: We’re not about to run out of kale

kale.jpg
Shutterstock

Lay off the kale, you arrogant yuppies.* The leafy green's popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, and as a result, Bejo Seeds, a major kale seed supplier, just ran out of seeds in Australia.

The kale chip fans in the media are scared. "Hipsters have made kale so popular that farmers are struggling to meet demand," cries the Daily Mail. "Time to Panic: There May Be a Global Kale Shortage," warns Eater. "Start Prepping Now for a Possible Global Kale Shortage," advises GrubStreet.

I see you're already clutching your favorite leafy green and growling. But is it really time to panic over, hoard, and ration your kale?

Don't unwax your handlebar mustache just yet. First, to point out the obvious, we're only talking about a temporary shortage from one (albeit big) seed supplier in one country. The Bejo Seeds Australia director told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he hopes seeds will be available by September or October.

When I contacted the Australia director for more details, he told me they had "switched the tap off" when it comes to the kale story. Translation: Calm the fuck down, internet.

I called up the managing director of Bejo Seeds' U.S. branch, Mark Overduin. He told me that while their branch had quadrupled kale seeds sales in the last three years, they weren't feeling the same crunch as their sister branch in Australia. "Sometimes supplies get a little tight," he said. When I told him that I thought that the kalepocalypse was overblown, he chuckled and said I was probably right. The leafy green researcher and kale farmers I heard from didn't seem too concerned, either.

Read more: Food, Living

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Frackers learn one does not simply walk into Pittsburgh and mess with its CSAs

csabox
Adelina W

The Pennsylvania Constitution stipulates that its citizens have a right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.”

Allow me to propose, herewith, an amendment: “… and a toxin-free CSA box, goddamn it.” (Would Benjamin Franklin approve of that wording? Who cares, he’s dead!)

In New Sewickley Township, about 30 miles north of the city of Pittsburgh, there's a new microcosm of the ongoing tug-of-war between the oil and gas industry and people who just happen to like clean air and water (crazy! I know). Kretschmann Farm, which has supplied certified organic produce to the greater Pittsburgh area for 36 years, is engaged in battle with Cardinal Midstream, a Texas-based corporation proposing to build a natural gas compressor station right next door.

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Picture This

Climate change VR games make you a better person by making you kill trees and coral

VR_bro
Shutterstock

Despite our best efforts to convince people of the dangers of climate change, fully half of Americans still choose to ignore the 97 percent of scientists who say it’s real. Well, stop tearing your hair out, and get a load of this mind boggling study out of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which shows how virtual simulations might be the thing to do the trick.

Armed with an Oculus VR headset, one of the lab's games guides the participant on a walk through the forest. And then, things get a little weird:

From Smithsonian:

In a minute, she's handed a joystick that looks and vibrates like a chainsaw, and she's asked to cut down a tree. As she completes the task, she feels the same sort of resistance she might feel if she were cutting down a real tree. When she leaves this forest, and re-enters the "real" world, her paper consumption will drop by 20 percent and she will show a measurable preference for recycled paper products. Those effects will continue into the next few weeks and researchers hypothesize it will be a fairly permanent shift. By comparison, students who watch a video about deforestation or read an article on the subject will show heightened awareness of paper waste through that day—but they will return to their baseline behavior by the end of the week.

Just imagine what she’d do if we made her go out and cut down a real live tree!

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Ask Umbra: How can I get rid of all of this packaging foam?

Polystyrene
iStockphoto

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I am distressed by the bulky #6 Styrofoam blocks that come in the box on the rare occasion when I buy something new and large. I have not found anywhere that recycles them; they sit around the house for a few months, and if Halloween doesn't arrive, they ultimately go in the trash. (I've already dressed as a salted pretzel, hot cocoa with marshmallows, and coffee with sugar cubes for Halloween.)

I found your post from 2004 that said the market for #6 might improve, but it's been ten years (!) and it doesn't seem like it has. Is there hope for #6? Do you have any other ideas of how to dispose of it?

Emily B.
Hillsborough, N.C.

A. Dearest Emily,

How about bagel with sesame seeds? Christmas tree covered in snow? Starry sky? That should get you through another few years.

But seriously now: I’m afraid those piles of excess foam still represent a recycling hurdle in many parts of the country. And even the most inspired Halloween reuse is merely delaying the disposal issue, leaving us with a big, bulky problem. But the good news is that you can very likely find a place to recycle your blocks, even if it’s not as simple as taking them out to the curb.

Read more: Living

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This little fox loves transit. Should we tell him he just missed his stop?

The fox was probably on the way to visit the raccoons who are taking over your neighborhood, the wolf-coyote hybrids who are prowling your park, and the deer who are munching on your parsley. Despite the fact that the bus was empty, the fox only took up one seat. If only all encroaching wildlife (including humans) were so polite.

Have no fear: The fantastic little guy snuck onto the parked bus for a snoozer and left on his own accord (feeling refreshed, we hope, and ready to seize the day -- or somebody's tasty backyard chickens!).

Read more: Cities, Living

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Hop on the bus, Gus

Even rural America can have good public transportation

bus in Roaring Fork Valley
Paul Sableman

When I travel to a rural area, I assume that renting a car will be a necessity. In fact, I assume it in much of the U.S. Except in a few older coastal or Upper Midwest inner cities, it's hard to get around in America without driving. So imagine my surprise upon arriving in Aspen, Colo., for a reporting trip and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and finding that a surprisingly good bus system and bikeshare program could get me almost everywhere I needed to go. And it didn't cost an arm and a leg -- just an arm. A broken arm. It turns out Aspen is so pro-pedestrian that it can actually create difficulties for visiting cyclists. But that’s not the worst problem to have.

Aspen and its neighbors along the Roaring Fork River high in the Rocky Mountains, such as Carbondale, are old mining towns. Developed in the late 19th century, they have walkable downtowns. To help residents and visitors get around or between those downtowns, they have a recently expanded bus service. The regional bus stops along Route 82, the road connecting the towns, with parking lots at the outlying stops, like a suburban commuter-rail station.

Local environmentalists I spoke with raved about the bus system, which may partly reflect the low expectations we’ve all developed for rural mass transit. Still, there were 4.1 million rides on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) buses in 2013, a 4 percent increase over 2012. That’s impressive for a region with only around 32,000 residents (though the seasonal population can increase substantially from tourism). If you’re in a downtown area, there will be a stop walking distance from you. The buses come frequently enough despite the small local population. The system is even integrated with other modes of transit: Many buses are outfitted with a bike rack in front and at certain stops you can load your bike on.

Read more: Cities, Living

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People: Stop getting your panties in a wad about “fake” charity clothing bins

Used clothing bins -- those metal boxes where people drop their unwanted or used shirts, jackets, jeans, belts, and the occasional human skull -- sure are making people mad these days.

The problem is in the sales pitch: Some of the sketchier bins on street corners and in parking lots have “DONATION” stenciled on the side. As a result, people think that their old spandex jeggings, those Uggs from last season, and the hot pink Juicy Couture sweatpants that they only wore once are going to a person in need. In fact, those “donations” are going to textile recyclers who are making billions selling the clothes to companies overseas that grind the clothes into material for industrial uses.

While it isn't exactly a news flash that most of the clothes from these bins go to for-profit companies, a recent New York Times article condemned the boxes as public nuisances, calling them magnets for graffiti and crime, and fire hazards. The city of New York has upped its efforts to haul away the bins. One New York state assemblyman has made getting rid of them his cause celebre, and the bins have been causing turf wars in other states.

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The Bot Digest

Will drones save the rhinos? Some conservationists say it’s launch time

drone_alaska
Shutterstock

Even as the teensy unarmed planes continue to invade American skies, words like "drones" and "surveillance" tend not to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings. But are there certain cases where being kept under bot watch will be welcomed?

Because drones are both nimble and thrifty, idealists are launching drones on feel-good missions across the globe. Yesterday, I wrote about the potential for drones to keep us in the know of what goes on with our food. Here are some other projects that aim to use camera-armed drones for the good of the planet -- and why skepticism might keep these projects from taking off.

Drones that spot illegal fishing

ocean
Shutterstock

Ocean conservationists may be psyched about Obama's plan for a supersized marine protected area. But, given that 20 percent of seafood is caught illegally, marine sanctuaries may matter a lot less when the rules aren't enforced. That's why the government of Belize is testing the waters with drone surveillance by using them to monitor their Glover's Reef Marine Reserve.