Photo via Flickr: Aforero

I always thought I was a minimalist, but packing for our upcoming move has made me question what, in fact, that term really means. It took me 15 medium-sized boxes (Rent A Green Boxes, mind you), for example, just to pack up the kitchen of our modest-sized 1-bedroom apartment. Just looking at it all is exhausting.

Granted, I’m a devoted cook, and those kitchen boxes are more than the boxes for everything else in our home combined, but when did we get so much stuff? And what will a move look like after we add another child to our family, or one day live in a house?

That’s why The Zero Waste Home blog is my new bible. For each and every “necessity” I’ve contemplated keeping or tossing (i.e., donating or recycling), I ask myself: What would Bea Johnson (the Zero Waste author) do? If it’s not something that will add true value to our life or that I genuinely adore, it gets listed on Freecycle. I’m refusing to hold onto things “just in case.”

Knowing how to move without leaving behind a big pile of trash is an important part of green know-how, but the real test will come after we move: With a clean slate and a bigger place, it’s going to be all-too-tempting to fill the empty space with fresh new stuff. But then three years from now, we’ll be getting ready to move again and I’ll just have to go through the exact same process all over again. Refuse, refuse, refuse…

–Jennifer Grayson

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Ah, the ubiquitous reusable water bottle. When my husband asked me last night for some recommends for a co-worker who wanted one she could drink out of at the office, I at first drew a blank; after all, it’s been years since I started using mine. I was reluctant, even, to post about this, thinking it would be akin to writing about tote bags. But then I thought, sometimes it’s nice to have a refresher course. So here, my faves:

The safest, health-wise (glass): Lifefactory

The classic (stainless steel): Klean Kanteen

Built-in filter (recycled PET): Bobble

Cool and collapsible for on-the-go (polyethylene): Vapur

Personally, if I were working in an office I would just do what I do at home: Drink out of that reusable receptacle that’s known as a cup. But hey — anything that helps put an end to the 20-plus billion plastic bottles thrown away in the US each year.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Photo via Flickr: Oculator

Last week, the House passed an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that would ban genetically modified salmon. Score one for the no-GMO crusaders, though it still has to be passed by the Senate to prevent Filet-o-Frankenfish from coming to a drive-thru window near you. (Though if you’re eating fast food fish sandwiches on a regular basis, GMOs are probably the least of your concerns.)

I’m elated, of course; but I’m also wondering: Why can’t we drum up this kind of support in Congress to ban not just Frankenfish, but Frankenfood? Eighty-six percent of all corn in the US, after all, is already genetically modified; as is 93 percent of all soy. Both have been linked to the increasing incidence of life-threatening food allergies, as Robyn O’Brien illuminates in her book The Unhealthy Truth. And most of that GM corn and soy is fed to livestock — including farmed salmon. Are corn and soy seemingly more benign because they don’t have a face?

–Jennifer Grayson

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Pretty pic. But over 300,000 of these little guys are used to make 1 kg of shellac. Photo via Oasinweb.com

By now you’ve probably heard the buzz about the bugs-in-your-candy episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. If you haven’t, it goes a little something like this: It turns out that the stuff used to give candies like jellybeans that shiny coating — called shellac — is actually made from the secretions of the female lac bug, as Oliver demonstrates here.

Not that I had much of an appetite for candy after watching this eye-opening episode, but I was curious: Is shellac considered suitable for those avoiding animal products?

The website of one of the largest shellac exporters, India’s D. Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd., states that shellac is vegetarian, since sticklac (nicer word than secretion) does not “contain any part of living insect body. There are other similar examples of vegetarian produce [sic] from animals/insects like milk, honey, silk, etc.”

Not surprisingly, The Vegan Society tells a different story:

The twigs are scraped by hand to remove the layer of encrusted resin. At this stage, the raw lac material is known as sticklac. The sticklac is ground and sieved to remove any debris before being washed to get rid of the lac dye, a red pigment that comes directly from the insects crushed bodies. Lac dye may be discarded in the production of shellac, however if lac dye is the intended primary product then the lac resin is harvested before the males have emerged from their cocoons and the sticklac is dried in the sun to kill the lac beetles.

The website goes on to state that approximately 300,000 lac insects are killed to produce 1 kg of lac resin.

While it wouldn’t be all that difficult to avoid shellac-coated candy (you just have to start reading labels, as was the point of Oliver’s demonstration), what about the hundreds of other products that use shellac? Tell me vegans (and veggies): Do you avoid shiny apples and antique furniture?

Apologies for the less-than-appetizing Meatless Monday post.

–Jennifer Grayson

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I made these little potted centerpieces last weekend for my friend’s baby shower, and I have to say — I’m very proud of myself. I’m not known for having the greenest thumb, after all. (That’s thanks to my mom, whom we affectionately refer to as “Black Thumb.”) But I’m hoping all that is going to change when we move to our new incredibly sunny apartment on the 18th (it even has an herb window!).

One other thing I have working in my favor: My recent discovery of Rolling Greens nursery, here in Los Angeles. This isn’t your typical potted palms and pachysandra kind of place; no, this is like the home store to end all home stores — candles, glassware, books, you name it — mixed with the most beautiful array of plants and orchids and vintage-y looking glazed pottery you’ve ever seen.

Photo via Apartment Therapy

Photo via Apartment Therapy

And it’s reasonable: My little living centerpieces cost around 8 bucks a pieceĀ  — $3 for the little mossy fern and $5 for each pot. Here’s how they looked on the table (don’t blame me for the un-eco decorations; I was in charge of flowers):

They also doubled as favors, which was nice. Who wants to waste money on cut flowers that you have to throw away two days after the party? I’ll definitely be making more of these for my new place — except using savories for my new kitchen herb garden.

–Jennifer Grayson

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[Watch video on YouTube]

When did you first decide to start eating organic? When my friends at Stonyfield Farm asked me if I would answer that question for their Organic Moment campaign, for which folks can upload personal videos about what organic means to them, I had to think way back. I mean, like way way back. One of my earliest memories, after all, is of my mom offering me samples of Oatios from the bulk bin at the health food store.

Were they organic, per se? I don’t know. But my early awareness of eating “natural” foods certainly set the stage for me to wholeheartedly embrace those first containers of organic milk and yogurt when they popped up in my supermarket circa 1993.

It’s a great idea, this (from a marketing perspective for Stonyfield, of course, but on a larger level as well); to get people talking about that light bulb moment when they stopped tossing packages in the shopping cart and suddenly started wondering, Hey! Where does my food come from? By listening to these stories, we can figure out how to best reach others who haven’t yet made the leap.

–Jennifer Grayson

p.s. Looks like my “organic moment” made the Stonyfield homepage! Check it out here.

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I’m in the process of moving, so I’ve been scouring all my favorite eco-design sites (like re-nest) and magazines for inspiration for our new place. So the other day, when I was sitting on my couch, bookmarking links on my laptop and tearing out pages from old Dominos to tack up on my bulletin board, I had a eureka! moment: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website where you could make a virtual bulletin board for all your favorite things?

Thinking I had just stumbled onto a brilliant new business idea, I did a quick Google search for virtual inspiration board. Lo and behold, someone had beat me to it! It’s called Pinterest, it’s a brand-new site, and it’s genius.

In addition to creating your own virtual “pinboards” (love saving trees), the site also incorporates a cool social media aspect: You can “follow” the collections of other tastemaking pinners, and pin their picks back to your own boards. (See how I’ve started mine, above.)

Want to start pinning (prediction: that word will become as ubiquitous as tweeting) yourself? You actually have to receive an invite to join Pinterest, but don’t worry — you can request one by clicking here.

–Jennifer Grayson

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Maybe it’s my fascination with a new book by Los Angeles urban homesteaders Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen called Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World; perhaps it’s the simple knowledge that 80 percent of Americans will be living in urban areas by the year 2025; but lately I’ve been obsessed with this notion of sustainable cities.

So I love that TreePeople will be hosting LA’s first Green City Fair this Saturday, to give Angelenos the practical knowledge they need to carve out their own little eco existence at home — whether that be on a ranch in the verdant hills of Malibu or a two-story walk-up amidst the hustle and bustle of Koreatown.

Hosted by eco-celeb Ed Begley Jr. and sponsored by The Gas Company, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Energy Upgrade California, Southern California Edison, Boeing, Wells Fargo, and Whole Foods, the fair will offer how-tos on everything from composting and gardening to solar panel installation and greywater recycling.

It won’t be only educational, of course; eco family fun like upcycling crafts and forest-inspired face painting will be going on all day, as well (not to mention music and yummy food).

The event, which goes from 10-4, is free, but you can make sure you have a seat at some of the most in-demand workshops by pre-registering here. (I, for one, will be checking out Sustainability for the Apartment Dweller.)

See you there!

–Jennifer Grayson

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