What the Hell are We Eating?

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“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” – Alfred E. Newman

I’ve been trying to eat less meat lately, especially after a study released in late June revealed that going vegetarian can halve your diet’s carbon footprint. After challenging myself to eat only one meal with meat (not counting fish…baby steps) a day, I set out to find some sushi. Pleased with my environmentalist effort, I happily purchased a California roll. And then, I read the label. Dun-dun-duuun. The first ingredient was “imitation crab stick.” What the HELL is imitation crab stick?! Here I was, trying to do a good thing, and I ended up eating imitation crab stick, which, by the way, is “kamaboko, a processed seafood made of finely pulverized white fish flesh (surimi), shaped and cured to resemble leg meat of snow crab or Japanese spider crab.” Um, gross.

My little lunch adventure got me thinking. What else am I really eating? After a lot of research, here’s some basic tips I’d like to share with you all.

The word “NATURAL” means nothing in the realm of food packaging. Do not fall for this.

Unlike organic foods, the FDA has never actually created any regulations for what “natural” even means. Surveys have shown that shoppers read the word to mean “more nutritious” and “healthier.” Are Cheetos any better for you if the word natural is on the bag? Think about it and beware.

If you are going to eat meat and you want it without antibiotics or hormones, make sure the packaging says plain and simple “no hormones administered” or “no antibiotics added.”

The USDA has gone a bit farther than the FDA in its attempt to define the word natural. However, the agency allows fresh meat, like chicken and turkey, to be labeled all natural when it’s been injected with salty broth. Also, “natural” fresh meat does not necessarily mean that it has been raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. In order to guarantee that, the label needs to say straight-up “no hormones administered” or “no antibiotics added.”

Know the difference between hybrid and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Thanks to GMO Inside, here’s a simple description: “Hybrids are NOT the same as GMOs. The simple difference is one is made in nature with nature and the other was manipulated in a lab. GMOs could never occur in nature! GMOs are currently created by chemical companies and are also reliant on chemicals to grow. A double dose of chemicals is what you’ve agreed to if you support or ingest GMOs.” Learn more about GMOs here. Many GMO products are currently not labeled as such. Scary stuff! Get involved with groups like Food and Water Watch to fight for your food to be labeled.

1454906_791296807576798_2687917909122501776_nIf GMOs totally freak you out, look for Non-GMO verified products. Learn more here. The logo for the project looks like this:

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Finally, what is the difference between cage-free, free-range, grass-fed and pasture-raised meat and dairy products?

These definitions were found on Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide. Check it out for details.

Cage-free refers to hens that are not raised in cages, but it does not necessarily mean they have access to the outdoors. There is no standard definition of “cage-free,” but it generally implies that the birds are free to perform natural behaviors. Many cage-free claims are not certified, though some cage-free eggs are certified by American Humane Certified label.

Free-range: In the United States, this term applies only to poultry and is regulated by the US Department of Agriculture. It indicates simply that the animals have been “allowed access to the outside.” The USDA does not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.

Grass-fed refers only to animals fed a diet of natural grass and other forage, not grain. Some companies that market their meat as “naturally raised” or grass-fed actually feed their animals grain for significant periods. USDA’s grass-fed marketing standard requires only that animals “must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” It does not necessarily mean that the animals spent their entire lives in pastures or on rangeland. Some cattle marketed as USDA grass-fed actually spend part of their lives in confined pens or feedlots.

Pasture-raised (This one is the best one! Look for this!): Animals raised in a pasture can roam freely in their natural environment, where they are able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest. Products with an Animal Welfare Approved label must be raised on pasture or range. Certified organic meat must also come from animals that have continuous access to pasture.

In short, go to a local farmers market. Shake hands with your new friend, the farmer and ask him or her questions about your food. That’s the best way to truly know what the hell you are eating. And you get to tell your friends that you’re a localvore.

20 Tips for Young Professionals to Keep in Mind at Their First Job

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Congratulations, Class of 2014! Whether you are headed to a nonprofit, government agency, or private company, here are some tips that I feel are worth sharing.

Photo Credit: www.comsoc.org

Photo Credit: http://www.comsoc.org

  • Always bring a notebook and pen/pencil to a meeting, even if it’s a short, informal discussion.  You never know when you will need to write something down.
  • During each staff meeting, take down your ‘action items’ on your meeting agenda. These are items that you need to act on after the meeting, whether it is something your supervisor asked you to look into or follow-up on or a task that you volunteered for. This way you know exactly what you’re responsible for completing.
  • It’s also not a bad idea to keep a ‘daily activities log’ and record what you complete each day.  It will help you stay organized and multitask efficiently.
  • Don’t be late…but if you are going to be late, send a text/email or call the office.
  • If you aren’t sure how to dress for a meeting or conference, dress more formally than you think you need to. Better to be overdressed than under-dressed, especially as a young professional.
  • Be careful what you post on your personal social media. If it feels like you maybe shouldn’t post that photo or status update, don’t. You are a young professional and want your colleagues to take you seriously, so keep that in mind when you are on the internet.
  • If you aren’t sure about something, or something doesn’t feel right, ask before you do anything.
  • For your first couple of months on the job, do as much listening as possible, that way you can learn about the organization’s work and office culture.
  • Don’t eat during meetings, unless it is explicitly said that it’s okay or everyone else is eating.
  • If you are available, check your e-mail over the weekend if you have a couple minutes and pick up your phone if one of your colleagues calls you. This will show that you are responsible and dependable.
  • Give interns meaningful projects and give them context and background for those projects.  Explain to them why they are doing what they are doing, so they can learn and build their skill set. As much as they are helping you, you should help them too.
  • Don’t drink at work events. If everyone else is having a drink, have one and sip it.
  • Don’t eat lunch at your desk…once you start, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll be much more productive in the afternoon if you take some time to change your surroundings. Going for a short walk on a nice day was always one of my favorites.
  • If you need help or are feeling overwhelmed, ask for help in a calm, professional way. It will help you in the long run.
  • Take on new projects with enthusiasm.
  • Learn as much as you can from your colleagues. You are surrounded by amazing talent and expertise.
  • Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Read your writing aloud to yourself.  Print a copy and take a red pen to it. Ask someone for another set of eyes on it. Always, always, always check your links in any email or document.
  • Remember that you are a representative of an organization with an excellent reputation.
  • Take photos and notes at conferences, events, and meetings.
  • Make lists, keep records and files, color code. Stay organized.

Spring Weekend on the Farm

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From May 17-19, I celebrated a special kind of anniversary. I had been WWOOFing (volunteering on an organic farm) for a year. After making 4 visits to the same organic farm, Raven Crest Botanicals, its safe to say that I am in love. My friend Susanna’s beautiful, natural nook in Berne, New York will always have a place in my heart. Since I am so in love with her farm, the sense of community it brings, and all that Susanna stands for, I decided to bring my boyfriend for a weekend.

Friday Night

After over four hours in the car, driving through constant downpour from New Jersey, we arrived in upstate New York…and went right to sleep.

Saturday

Since I was a kid, I have gotten cold sores. Nowhere near a conventional pharmacy, but surrounded by nature’s pharmacy, I asked Susanna for an organic remedy after a cold sore appeared Saturday morning. She made a mixture of echinacea, lavender, St. John’s Wort, and lemon balm that sent me well on my way to healing. I was so thankful to have a healer for a friend!

After Susanna made my medicine, we went into the village of Schoharie and walked around. Then, we all got lunch and carrot cake from the Carrot Barn, which was absolutely delicious! Next, we went to get some strawbales for strawbale gardening from a farmer near Susanna’s land. We made friends with some of the animals at Willaine Shropshires.

Once we returned to the farm, we (my boyfriend Jeff) dug holes for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Then we planted the babies with soil, compost and organic fertilizer. To learn more about the organic fertilizer that Susanna uses, read another one of my posts.

Our berry plants all in a row!

Our berry plants all in a row

On Saturday night, we all enjoyed a beautiful dinner made by the Rainbow Goddess Ashley! We had raw soup made hot by blending for 10 minutes, roasted veggies and couscous, and kale salad. Yum!

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess

Sunday

According to Susanna’s biodynamic calendar, Sunday was not a good day to plant anything into the Earth. Her biodynamic calendar takes into consideration lunar phases and astrological influences to determine whether a particular day is appropriate for soil and plant development.

Instead of planting, we mulched and weeded around our berries. On Sunday night, Jeff and I went into Albany to see The Grand Budapest Hotel with Susanna’s full-time seasonal WWOOFer Lisa. Lisa is a lovely person with great, positive energy and a love for crystals and music. She also has a really awesome SUV that we drove around in quite a bit during our stay at the farm.

On Sunday, we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries You can see the mulch line in front of us.

After we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries. You can see the mulch line in front of us.

Monday

On our last day, Jeff, Lisa and I went to the Middleburgh Diner and visited our friend, Jane. Jane felt a cold coming on and needed some of Susanna’s medicine to feel better before a fun weekend she had planned. We were so excited to see Jane’s home and felt so honored when she showed us a breathtaking view of the Catskills Mountains from her property.

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane's house

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane’s house

From drinking Chaga tea, to eating duck eggs and homemade bread while looking at the hidden messages of water, Jeff and I had a wonderful time on the farm. I was so happy to bring someone I care about into Susanna’s space and continue to spread her message of love and wellness. We can’t wait to go back again soon!

For more posts about Raven Crest Botanicals, WWOOFing, and organic farming, check these out:

Guest Blog: What We Can All Learn from Laguna Chicabal

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Guest Blog By: Kelley Scholl

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Kelley grew up in lovely Northborough, Massachusetts, but is now lucky enough to have pieces of her heart scattered the world over.  Her interests are: politics, kind people, pretty places, and good beer.  She attended University of Delaware where after approximately 80 majors, she graduated with degrees in Sociology and Biological Sciences.  A few weeks later, Kelley left for the greatest adventure… Peace Corps Guatemala!  

Currently, Kelley lives in a small, indigenous village in the Western Highlands where she facilitates a Healthy Schools program in 14 schools.  The idea is to utilize schools to promote health in the greater community.  Kelley works with the health centers, parents groups, teachers, principals, and her favorite – groups of 5th and 6th grade peer educators.

Please check out her blog to learn more about her experience and contact Kelley with any questions you may have about Peace Corps or Guatemala!

“It’s really difficult for me to write about life in Guatemala. It’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to tell my very best friends about it. When I left for the Peace Corps 17 months ago, trouble sharing my experience was not on my radar as far as developing world difficulties, yet it is something that I think of nearly every day now.

The reason it’s so hard to share my experience is that Guatemala is a place I both love and hate. Like any culture close-up, it is one of contrast. It’s a land of poverty, yet that’s not what is truly holding it back. It is a land where women are generally in charge of the family’s purse strings, but have no reproductive rights or even the right to walk down the street safely. People are kind, but not friendly. It’s a land of extreme Christianity, and also a place where alcohol abuse and adultery are rampant. In a cruel, ironic twist, its children have the 6th highest rate of malnourishment in the world, while its adult population has the 10th highest rate of obesity.  It’s a land where I am impressed by how respectful and hard working the children are, but truly saddened by how quickly they must grow up. It’s a land where people wake up before the sun to farm, but government workers will not stay a second past their workday, no matter what the benefit may be to their community. It’s a land that centers its tourism industry on being the ‘Land of the Maya,’ but allows 73% of the indigenous people to live in poverty.

image001Even the beautiful, traditional Guatemalan dress (at left) – or ‘traje’ – is a point of contention. Those who wear it do so to respect their past and their indigenous heritage. Others point out that the traje is not truly Maya, but something forced upon the Maya people by the Spanish conquistadors in order to contain and oppress them.

So, when people say, ‘Tell me about Guatemala,’ I want to tell them everything and nothing at all. I usually tell them nothing, which is a shame.

Recently, I’ve begun to think that the only thing worse than misrepresenting Guatemala is not even trying to share my experience in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring.’

Despite my own inability to wrap my head around my experience in Guatemala, let alone my inability to share it, there are still beautiful lessons that everyone should learn from Guatemala.

One of these lessons can be learned at Laguna Chicabal (pictured below), a sacred, crater lake, nestled in the forest of San Martín Sacatepéquez, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

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However, Laguna Chicabal is more than just a pretty place; it is one of the most important sites in the Maya Cosmovision and a place that receives the highest reverence from its inhabitants and visitors.

So, here’s how the story goes… A long, long time ago, the lake was lower down on the volcano. Today hikers pass by this dry crater on their way up to the current lake. However, the people who lived by the lake did not take care of it. They washed their clothes in it, bathed in it, and did not understand what a sacred gift the lake was. So, the gods took away the lake and when they gave it back, they relocated it to higher up on the mountain. Since then, the people around the lake have vowed to preserve it, to keep it clean, and to protect it.

While Guatemalan rivers are typically filled with trash, Laguna Chicabal and the area surrounding it is pristine. Swimming in the lake can get you kidnapped (supposedly). In a part of the country without much in the way of resources, the community has dedicated themselves to watching over this sacred gift, this lake. People don’t toss trash on the lake’s beach, and if they do there are daily trash pick-ups to clean up the mess. There are many beautiful places in Guatemala – volcanoes, beaches, forests – yet; I have never seen Guatemalans take such an interest in maintaining an area. Community members care for this part of the world better than they care for their own backyards. With not much to give financially, locals dedicate hours of hard work and give their upmost respect to this parcel of sacred land and water. The sign below greets visitors on their way into the park.

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What is so amazing about the protection efforts at Laguna Chicabal – unlike many of our own attempts at environmentalism – is that it isn’t rooted in a political movement, or a need to increase tourism, or a desire to preserve enough resources for our grandchildren, or concerns about changes in weather. It’s simply a way of life. The people who watch out for Laguna Chicabal do so because of a deep, profound respect for the land. They have known for a long time what the rest of us should figure out – the Earth is a gift and that’s the only reason we need to protect it. We must defend the Earth, not because of a catchy slogan or even scientific facts; we should watch out for the Earth because we respect it and it is our duty.

I guess if can view only a few experiences and lessons from my time in Guatemala with total clarity, a reverence for the Earth is not such a bad thing to learn.

Now I just need to expand this view from Laguna Chicabal to the rest of Guatemala to everywhere else. Wanna help?”

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Birding…For Science!

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Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, NJ

Do you love birding? Can’t wait to add to your life list or ID a new species? Consider taking your love for all things with wings to the next level: volunteer with the National Audubon Society‘s Citizen Science program!

Citizen Science projects recruit volunteers to collect ecological information. For example, the New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science program asks bird nerds to help them develop information data sets on the abundance, distribution and demography of bird species throughout the state.

With GPS coordinates provided by NJA, volunteers can set out on an adventure, tallying different types of bird species they see, while noting information about habitat, weather and tidal conditions. The information is then collected by NJA to provide a basis for managing bird populations, promote habitat preservation and improve knowledge of state ecology.

For more information and to learn how you can get involved, find an Audubon Society near you!

Nature Notes: Birding in Northern Jersey

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As any bird nerd will tell you, migration months are the best time for birders to see so many species! Warblers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers, and other migratory birds, including shorebirds have flown thousands of miles from Central/South America and the Caribbean to nest in my home state of New Jersey, or to continue on to the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska. These mass migrations allow for more bird species to be observed in NJ than any other time of the year.

My friend and fellow birder Dana and I made plans to get outside and do some birding this weekend. We brought along our friends and family and headed to a few different spots in Northern Jersey.

Wood Turtle

The Wood Turtle is a threatened species in NJ

Our first stop was New Jersey Audubon’s Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville, NJ. Turns out, a dear friend of mine from my days as a nature camp counselor was leading our walk!

Miss Stephanie guided us throughout the property as we searched for the Blue-Winged Warbler. During our walk, the group learned that skunk cabbage is able to generate its own heat in order to grow and flower while snow is still on the ground. How cool is that?!

 

We also found a Wood Turtle, which is classified as threatened in New Jersey. AND at the end of our walk, we were able to spot a Blue-winged Warbler in the tallest branches of a beautiful tree.

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Blue-winged Warbler. Photo Credit: birds.audubon.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Eastern Towhee. Photo Credit: AllAboutBirds.org

Here’s a list of the other birds we saw (birders LOVE lists):

  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Blue Jay
  • Eastern Bluebird
  • Eastern Towhee
  • Gray Catbird
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Mourning Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Song Sparrow
  • Tree Swallow
  • Turkey Vulture
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Wood Thrush

If you are curious about any of the species of birds listed, check the National Audubon Society’s website for more information about them.

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Yellow Warbler. Photo credit: birds.audubon.org

Next, we went for a hike through Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. There we saw a number of bullfrogs, painted turtles, cowbirds, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch. My favorite was the Yellow Warbler that we saw in its nest above the water of the swamp. It was such a beautiful and striking bird, bright yellow among all the green.

 

 

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

Barred Owl at The Raptor Trust

After lunch, my sister and I took a drive over to The Raptor Trust. The Trust, located in Millington, NJ, provides care to over 3,500 injured and orphaned wild birds each year. Many of them are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. For those birds that would not survive if they were released, The Raptor Trust property has become their home. My sister and I saw so many birds of prey, we even circled back through the area where the birds live to make sure we didn’t miss seeing anyone. Our favorites were definitely the owls.

I’m so happy to have spent such a beautiful day outdoors and in nature among friends and family. I am looking forward to purchasing my own pair of binoculars and going birding more often. It was revitalizing to step away from my computer and desk and get back into nature! I truly believe in the restorative power of nature. Do you?

Winter Visit to the Farm

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In between my old job and my new job, I went up to Raven Crest Botanicals for a long weekend. The farm is so beautiful, especially under a blanket of snow. We didn’t do any planting or harvesting, but went into town for project materials and into Albany for a showing of the film Her…and still ate amazingly delicious fresh, real food. We also had an extremely thought provoking conversation about food labels. Stay tuned for a blog on this topic in June!

For more posts about Raven Crest Botanicals, WWOOFing, and organic farming, check these out:

Living Below the Poverty Line on Food and Drink for 5 Days

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Have you gone a day without buying anything? In a few of my courses back in college, we discussed the environmental impact of consumption, particularly in America. The concept of going days without purchasing anything new stuck with me and I have tried to carry it out as best I can. Which is one of the reasons why, when I was presented with the Live Below the Line challenge, I thought I could do it.

I heard about Live Below the Line through my job as a nonprofit communicator at The Hunger Project. The Global Poverty Project called upon citizens to live below the poverty line and spend $1.50 a day on food and drink for five days. From April 28-May 2, thousands of people around the world, including me, took the Live Below the Line challenge to raise funds and awareness for the 1.2 billion people in our world who live in extreme poverty.

I spent the week before Live Below the Line “preparing.” I overindulged in hopes of gaining a few pounds to help me get through the challenge. I also did some spring cleaning and donated three garbage bags full of clothes and shoes to a local charity.


Day 1: Spent $1.50 total on food and drink

The first meal of the first day I learned something surprising. The Stevia packets that I put in my tea each morning cost as much as the tea bag itself. Instead of my usual three packets per thermos of tea, I chose to only use one. I didn’t have the budget to spend 20 cents on tea.

Breakfast:
5 cents Stevia packet
5 cents Tetley tea bag
19 cents hardboiled egg
29 cents total

Our potluck

Our potluck!

A number of us in The Hunger Project global office decided to take on the challenge together under the theme “community.” I was so lucky to have such talented colleagues cook amazing meals for lunch each day! We shared them potluck style and ate together. One of my favorite things about the Live Below the Line challenge was spending time with my colleagues and offering each other support.

IMG_4944Lunch:
32 cents three-quarter serving fried rice with vegetables
20 cents half serving beans, tomato and kale recipe
52 cents total

Snack:
19 cents hardboiled egg

For my first Live Below the Line dinner I wanted to price out a meal I often ate in college: buttered noodles with grated cheese.

IMG_4947Dinner:
22 cents two servings of penne
9 cents half tablespoon melted organic butter
9 cents one serving grated cheese
10 cents tea with one Stevia packet
50 cents total


Day 2: Spent $1.50 total on food and drink

Breakfast:
5 cents Stevia packet
5 cents Tetley tea bag
19 cents hardboiled egg
29 cents total

IMG_4951Lunch:
32 cents half serving sesame noodles
20 cents half serving beans, tomato and kale
52 cents total


Snack
:
19 cents hardboiled egg

On Day 2, I thought a lot about all of the expenses I had that week that did not fit into my budget for food and drink. I paid my rent, bought feminine products, and spent $22 a day commuting to and from my job. I couldn’t imagine living on a $1.50 a day, every day, for everything.

I made more hardboiled eggs on the second evening of Live Below the Line because we all loved to snack on them in the office. I purchased America’s Choice brand because it was on sale and brought our price down to $0.11/egg. Certainly not organic or cage free, which shed light on the affordability of eating consciously.

Dinner:
22 cents two servings of penne
9 cents half tablespoon melted organic butter
9 cents one serving grated cheese
10 cents tea with one Stevia packet
50 cents total


Day 3: Spent $1.49 for food and drink

Breakfast:
5 cents Stevia packet
5 cents Tetley tea bag
11 cents hardboiled egg
21 cents total

IMG_4955Lunch:
17 cents one serving brown rice
40 cents one serving lentils, potatoes, frozen veggies
57 cents total

 

I used a lot of packets of salt during Live Below the Line and counted them on Day 3 as 10 cents total. I also had one tablespoon of peanut butter as a snack for 11 cents.

Dinner:
22 cents two servings of penne
9 cents half tablespoon melted organic butter
9 cents one serving grated cheese
10 cents tea with one Stevia packet
50 cents total

I found myself making the same dinner over and over again because I came home too tired to make anything different. On Day 3, my boyfriend came over for dinner and ate leftover penne vodka which was rather tempting. It was easier during the challenge to isolate myself socially, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to cheat.


Day 4: Spent $1.50 on food and drink

Without a doubt, Day 4 was the hardest day. I was feeling tired and had no energy to focus on projects at work. Live Below the Line was also the longest I have gone without meat. I realized I was having a tough time without Diet Pepsi too.

Because I was having a difficult time, I had a larger breakfast to experience some different flavors.

IMG_4957Breakfast:
5 cents Stevia packet
5 cents Tetley tea bag
11 cents hardboiled egg
11 cents tablespoon peanut butter
11 cents toasted bread
43 cents total

IMG_4959Lunch:
42 cents two servings spaghetti with olive oil and garlic
20 tomato, beans and kale
62 cents total

 

The smell of ocean when I arrived home in Sea Bright helped me to continue the challenge. I also took a walk on the beach and reminded myself that there was only one day left. I wasn’t too hungry throughout the challenge, just bored with what I was eating. I missed the comfort foods that I am so accustomed to; like taking a break from work and getting a Diet Pepsi in the afternoon or coming home and eating buffalo wings or chicken parm subs. I also found it so strange to be measuring out each serving of each meal during Live Below the Line. That is certainly not something I had paid much attention to before.

Dinner:
22 cents two servings of penne
9 cents half tablespoon melted organic butter
5 cents half serving grated cheese
3 cents half serving garlic powder
8 cents tea with less than one Stevia packet
47 cents total


Day 5: Spent $1.50 on food and drink

On Day 5, I forgot my iPhone at home. Not having as many distractions at work made me more aware of how ready I was to eat what I was accustomed to again.

Breakfast:

5 cents Stevia packet
5 cents Tetley tea bag
11 cents hardboiled egg
11 cents tablespoon peanut butter
11 cents toasted bread
43 cents total

IMG_4970Lunch
17 cents serving of brown rice
39 cents ladle of tomato sauce and veggies
56 cents total

 

Snacks:
7 cents one stick of Orbit gum
11 cents hardboiled egg
11 cents tablespoon of peanut butter
29 cents total

Dinner:
11 cents one serving of penne
5 cents half tablespoon melted organic butter
5 cents half serving grated cheese
22 cents total


As my colleagues and I sat around the pizza we had ordered to celebrate the end of Live Below the Line a week later, I realized what a privilege it is for me to be able to choose between a plain slice of pizza that costs $2.38, a white slice for $2.72 or a vegetable slice for $4.09. I have the privilege of choice every day.

I can choose what I want to eat, how much I spend, and what I want to drink. Clean drinking water comes right out of my faucet. Electricity fuels my stove and oven and allows for me to cook hot meals. I have the ability to spend money to commute to New York City for a good job.

Live Below the Line made me grateful for all that I have, especially the support of my friends and family. Thank you so much to everyone who invested in my Live Below the Line page, sent text messages of encouragement and asked questions about my job and hunger and poverty.

The challenge also made me realize that people living below the poverty line do not need hand outs or donations; they need opportunities to make their own income to take themselves out of poverty. I believe that everyone on the planet has the capability and resourcefulness to live well; they are only missing the opportunity to utilize their talents.

I don’t know how I would be able to live each day if I had to choose between healthcare needs or rent or food. I think that’s what Live Below the Line is all about, realizing all that you have and being grateful, empathizing with those who live in conditions of hunger and poverty, and being motivated to bring about social change so that every person has a chance to experience life above the line.

Visit my Live Below the Line page to make an investment to empower women and men to end their own hunger.

Why an Environmentalist is Living Below the Poverty Line for 5 Days

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Wow! It has been awhile since I have written for my blog. Since my last post in December, I started a new job and have been getting settled into my new digs. Based in Union Square in Manhattan, I now work for a global nonprofit called The Hunger Project. The Hunger Project works to empower women and men to end their own hunger in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Our mission is to end hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, grassroots, women-centered strategies and advocating for their widespread adoption in countries throughout the world.

Since accepting my new position, a lot of folks have asked me why I left my work in environmentalism. I couldn’t disagree more with the premise of this question. I believe that everything is connected and that — in order to most effectively and sustainably save the environment and foster environmental awareness among all people on the planet — we must first ensure that no person on the globe is living in conditions of hunger and poverty. We must work tirelessly to empower women and promote gender equality, and healthy nutrition for children around the world, and hold our governments accountable.

I have recently started reading Howard G. Buffett’s novel called 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World. In his book, Mr. Buffett chronicles his journey through life, where he began as an endangered species and nature photographer and became a farmer and started his career working to improve the lives of farmers around the world.

As I read through the pages of this book, one line has stuck out in my mind: “no one will starve to save a tree.”

Photo Credit: underthetuscangun.com

Photo Credit: underthetuscangun.com

At work, with this thought in mind, I began to think about The Hunger Project’s recent partnership with the Global Poverty Project on a campaign called Live Below the Line. After taking a depth breath and reminding myself of that line in the book, I decided to join the Live Below the Line challenge.

I am standing with thousands of people around the world who are taking the Live Below the Line challenge to raise funds and awareness for the 1.2 billion people in our world who live in extreme poverty.

From April 28-May 2, join me in spending $1.50 a day on food and beverage for 5 days to change the way people think about extreme poverty – all while supporting The Hunger Project’s work in villages worldwide.

I’m looking forward to joining my team at The Hunger Project in experiencing what its like to live below the poverty line and spending only $1.50 a day on food/drink for 5 days. I stand in full partnership with people living in hunger and poverty throughout the world and I hope this campaign sheds light on the conditions they face. I share The Hunger Project’s vision of a world where every woman, man and child leads a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity. – See more at: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/lindsaymcnamara

I want to experience what it is like to live in poverty and the choices (or lack there of) my fellow human beings on the other side of the globe (and right here in New York City) make every day.

I recycle, even separate my bottles and cans from paper and cardboard. I don’t drink bottled water. I take public transportation to work. I bring my canvas bags to the grocery store. I try not to consume too much. These small actions pale in comparison to the reduction my carbon footprint will have as I try to eat and drink on $1.50 a day for 5 days. My fellow environmentalists, I encourage you to Live Below the Line with me and take a hard look at all that you consume in 5 days.

In 40 Chances, Howard G. Buffett explains how all farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. He applies this principle to life in general. If you had the opportunity or the chance to change the world and be a part of the Live Below the Line dialogue, to see yourself as a member of the planet as a whole, would you take it?

I encourage you to take this challenge with me. Live Below the Line for 5 days to learn more about the lives of other human beings on the planet, but also to learn more about yourself and the life you lead.

How can you get involved?
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New Year’s Resolutions: Stay Curious and Live Passionately

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cu·ri·os·i·ty
Noun: a strong desire to know or learn something.

Concretions

Concretions in Susanna’s music room

Ever curious about the world around me, I picked up some of the rocks on the table in Susanna’s music room and turned one over and over in my hand.  Immediately, I began asking Susanna a series of questions: Where did you get these?  How are they formed?  Can we go get more?

Susanna — herbalist, organic farmer, owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, and the amazing woman who said yes when I asked to volunteer on her organic farm earlier in the year — patiently answered all of my questions in the music room of her house that sits on 250 acres of beautiful farmland in upstate New York.

I learned that the rocks are called concretions and Susanna had visited a woman named Stephanie a few miles down the road from her farm to pick out a few.  Susanna and my other friends from the farm, Yoav and Thomas, explained that no one is quite sure how the rocks are formed, and that they are only found in certain parts of the world.  Some believe that the energy of each planet is held in place by a mysterious grid and that the concretions mark this grid of energy.  Other theories have to do with concretions being fairy stones or serving as the currency of aliens.  Clearly, there is a wide spectrum of speculation on the matter.

Susanna and Yoav had brought home dozens of rocks and together we marveled at their simple, yet complex beauty.  Before the end of my visit to the farm, I promised myself I would visit Stephanie to pick out my own concretions and hear her thoughts on their existence and formation.  A few days later farm friends Ashley, Peter and Ben, and I went to visit Stephanie who we referred to as “the rock lady.”

Stephanie and her concretions

Stephanie and her concretions

We pulled up to her quaint, white house off one of the busier streets near the farm.  Stephanie had set up all of her rocks for us on the porch in containers organized by price.  I learned that the rocks are monetarily valuable and that Stephanie makes some of her living from selling the concretions to museums and collectors on the internet.

Her passion for the rocks came through in her excited voice and wide eyes.  Stephanie explained how the thousands of concretions that she holds dear were found in creek beds of Schoharie Creek tributaries.  She would not tell us her secret concretion spot though and explained how some folks are so interested in finding the rocks that they threatened to GPS her location.

Also on her porch were rocks that resembled turtle shells.  She said that they are  extremely valuable to collectors because of their connection to Native American folklore.

The myth of the “Great Turtle” or “Turtle Island” is believed by Northeastern Woodland tribes including the Lenape and the Iroquois.  The Iroquois believe that Sky Woman (also known as Atahensic or Ataensic, who is the sky goddess that was carried down to Earth by the wings of birds at the time of creation) fell down to the earth when it was covered with water. Many animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle, which grew into the land we know today.

Concretions

My turtle shell concretion (front, right)

I thought the story of the ‘Great Turtle’ was beautiful and I chose a concretion that had a turtle shell pattern on the top from Stephanie’s collection.  I was thankful that I had asked so many questions about the concretions and that we all went on a journey to learn more about them and their origins.

In 2014, I resolve to stay curious about the incredible world that we live in and continue to ask plenty of questions each day.  I resolve to learn new things and stay informed and aware of global issues.  I will write letters, sign petitions, speak at public events, attend rallies, make phone calls and spread the word about problems that need attention.  I will advocate for causes I am passionate about: the environment, education, sustainability, real food, organic farming, and social equity.  I will volunteer; I feel that I am my best self when I am serving the community.  I ask you all to join and make impact on the world we live in.  Together, we can make 2014 a year for the books.

If you prefer a geological approach to the formation of concretions click here and for turtle rocks click here.