A handkerchief stuffed inside a pocket got me thinking about aspects of consumerism I’m happy I no longer have to deal with.
1. Disintegrated Kleenexes in the washing machine
I’ve been using reusable cloth handkerchiefs for many years and love them. Only recently, upon pulling a cloth hankie out of the pocket of a pair of dirty jeans, did I realize that I never open the washing machine to discover bits of disintegrated Kleenex coating an entire load of clean laundry. I don’t miss that. I hang clothes to dry and can’t possibly pick off all of those bits.
Plus cloth feels so much nicer on my nose, reduces tree deaths—sometimes of trees in the carbon-sinking Boreal forest—and saves money.
2. Mowing the lawn
Our lawn had been dead for several years due to drought. The 31 atmospheric rivers that pummeled California this winter could possibly have resurrected it had I not begun to fill in the yard last year with native plants. I do not miss mowing a lawn and the native insects that rely on native plants to survive are also happier with more plants and less lawn.
If you have a lawn that you would rather not spend time mowing or you can no longer water it due to drought, consider planting native plants. After getting those natives in the ground, they require much less maintenance than a lawn. Think about what you’ll do with those extra hours each weekend.
If the idea of replacing the lawn appeals to you but you worry that any plant you touch will receive an automatic death sentence, please do not smother your soil with artificial turf—aka plastic grass.
In an attempt to improve upon Mother Nature—as she rolls her eyes—Monsanto created plastic grass in 1964, with competitors following suit and manufacturing their own versions. These companies initially targeted high schools, colleges and sports teams with their synthetic product. In the 90s, fake grass began to pop up in domestic landscapes.
According to The Guardian, all artificial turf contains PFAS, per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as forever chemicals because they persist in our bodies and the environment. PFAS have been linked to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, and pregnancy-induced hypertension and more. This group of chemicals likely has a negative impact on our endocrine system, our fertility, and our immune system. (Read about ways to avoid PFAS here.)
In addition to exposing consumers to PFAS, artificial turf contaminates stormwater runoff. As it breaks down, it sheds microplastics into the environment. And on a hot summer’s day, your children—or pets—won’t be able to play on artificial turf because its hot surface will burn their feet—or paws. At this point you’ll want to tear it out but plastic grass is not recyclable. At the end of its life—because only PFAS lasts forever—the artificial turf goes to a landfill.
If you don’t want to replace the lawn, raising the height of the lawnmower blades to render higher grass helps preserve habitat for insects. And you can also shrink the size of the lawn if you don’t want to replace all of it.
3. P acronyms in my food
PFAS aren’t in plastic turf only. They can lurk in grease- and waterproof food packaging, including seemingly greener compostable cardboard takeout containers. Go here for a list of packaging and other consumer goods that do not contain PFAS.
Bisphenols are another group of chemicals found in certain types of food packaging. BPA is used in epoxy resins (plastics) that line canned food. This widely studied synthetic estrogen is linked to numerous negative health impacts, including brain impairment, diabetes, obesity, breast and prostate cancer, changes in the development of eggs and sperm and more.
Because of these known impacts, manufacturers began to swap BPA out for BPS or BPF, which are no better.
By avoiding packaged foods, I reduced my exposure to these potentially harmful acronyms.
4. The foods I no longer eat
In interviews, people often ask me if I miss any of the foods I no longer eat. I honestly can’t think of any. The food and drinks I enjoy today taste so much better than any highly processed versions I used to eat.
Sourdough bread—and sourdough everything (crackers, pizza, biscuits, pancakes)—tastes amazing and does not upset my stomach. I’m not gluten-intolerant but I am Wonder Bread-intolerant. Highly processed baked good can disagree with me.
I ferment all the things—cashew cheese, kimchi and kombucha for example. Highly processed cream cheese, pasteurized sauerkraut or sugary soda cannot compare. And fermented foods contain gut-friendly probiotics. (However, I wouldn’t recommend guzzling kombucha. After fermentation, it still contains some sugar and so I regard it as more of a treat than a tonic.)
I would miss chocolate chips if I couldn’t buy them. If you don’t have access to bulk bins, reduce plastic waste by buying the largest package of chocolate chips you can find—if you can bake all those cookies (or brownies, muffins, pancakes, and so on) so the chocolate chips won’t go to waste. Unless you don’t trust yourself with so many chocolate chips on hand. Perhaps you can split a giant package with a friend—and save money! (Go here for more on lower-waste shopping without access to year-round farmers’ markets and bulk stores.)
5. Scented, harsh cleaning products
Because I don’t use commercial cleaning products—detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, dish soap—when I walk down the aisle of a typical American grocery or box store that carries them, I find the smells overpowering.
Many of these scents pollute the air and can cause migraines, asthma attacks and breathing difficulties, neurological problems and skin irritation. And companies don’t have to label what goes into their fragrances. Legally, they can simply list “fragrance” because, according to the FDA, disclosing these ingredients would divulge trade secrets. Trade secrets can give a company a competitive advantage. We can’t risk corporate profits over something as trivial as human health!
6. Relying on corporations to fulfill my every want and need
While I do still rely on corporations for some things (utilities especially), living with less stuff has made me more self-sufficient. I can fix simple things or find someone local to fix things for me.
When I do need to buy something, I try to support small businesses first. Shopping small stimulates the local economy and keeps sales taxes in the community to create jobs and pay for roads and schools and hospitals.
7. Forgetting to put the trash out at the curb
Having reduced your waste, while lying in bed late at night before garbage day, you won’t have to ask your partner, “Did you remember to put out the trash?” Or at least you will ask the question less frequently. If you miss a week or two or three, you won’t wonder what to do with the trash piling up because it won’t pile up. And if you compost, your trash will remain dry for the most part and smell less (if at all) should you not put it out for a week or two or three.
Same with recycling. Although we should all recycle any materials that can be recycled, reducing the amount of plastic we bring into our homes would keep plastic out of the waste stream altogether. Even better, corporations would produce less packaging and offer returnable, refillable packaging that can be used over and over or allow customers to bring their own containers. (Go here for a list of businesses in Silicon Valley that allow BYO containers.)
Some may believe that living more sustainably will lead to a miserable life of perpetual deprivation and it’s just not true. Living more sustainably brings joy.
Check out my award-winning cookbook!
- Taste Canada silver for single-subject cookbooks
- Second-place Gourmand cookbook award in the category of food waste
- Shortlisted for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals